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Comments on FUTURE SHOCK 

C. P. Snow: “Remarkable . . . No one ought to 
have the nerve to pontificate on our present 
worries without reading it.” 

R. Buckminster Fuller: “Cogent . . . brilliant 
... I hope vast numbers will read Toffler’s 

Betty Friedan: “Brilliant and true . . . Should 
be read by anyone with the responsibility of lead- 
ing or participating in movements for change in 
America today.” 

Marshall McLuhan: “ FUTURE SHOCK ... is 
‘where it’s at.’ ” 

Robert Rimmer, author of The Harrad Experi- 
ment: “A magnificent job . . . Must reading.” 

John Diebold: “For those who want to under- 
stand the social and psychological implications 
of the technological revolution, this is an incom- 
parable book.” 

Wall Street Journal: “Explosive 
liantly formulated.” 

« • • 


London Daily Express: “Alvin Toffler has sent 
something of a shock-wave through Western 

Le Figaro: “The best study of our times that I 
know ... Of all the books that I have read in 
the last 20 years, it is by far the one that has 
taught me the most.” 

The Times of India: “To the elite . . . who 
often get committed to age-old institutions or 
material goals alone, let Toffler s FUTURE 
SHOCK be a lesson and a warning.” 

Manchester Guardian: “An American book that 
will . . . reshape our thinking even more radi- 
cally than Galbraith’s did in the 1950s . . . The 
book is more than a book, and it will do more 
than send reviewers raving ... It is a spectacu- 
lar outcrop of a formidable, organized intellec- 
tual effort . . . For the first time in history sci- 
entists are marrying the insights of artists, poets, 
dramatists, and novelists to statistical analysis 
and operational research. The two cultures have 
met and are being merged. Alvin Toffler is one of 
the first exhilarating, liberating results.” 

Christian Science Monitor: “Packed with ideas, 
explanations, constructive suggestions . . . Re- 
vealing, exciting, encouraging, brilliant.” 

Newsweek: “In the risky business of social and 
cultural criticism, there appears an occasional 
book that manages— through some happy combi- 
nation of accident and insight— to shape our per- 
ceptions of its times. One thinks of America in 
the 1950s, for example, largely in terms of David 
Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd and John Kenneth 
Galbraith’s The Affluent Society, while Michael 
Harrington’s The Other America helped focus the 
concerns of the early 1960s. And now Alvin 
Toffler’s immensely readable yet disquieting study 
may serve the same purpose for our own increas- 
ingly volatile world: even before reading the 
book, one is ready to acknowledge the point of 
the title— that we suffer from ‘future shock.’ ” 

a c< 


Y 0* V 


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Portions of this book first appeared, in slightly 
different form, in horizon, redbook, and playboy 

Random House edition 

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For Sam, Rose, Heidi and Karen, 
My closest links with time 

* « • 


Introduction 1 




1 . 

The 800th Lifetime 


The Unprepared Visitor 


Break with the Past 




The Accelerative Thrust 


Time and Change 


Subterranean Cities 


The Technological Engine 


Knowledge as Fuel 


The Flow of Situations 




The Pace of Life 


People of the Future 


Durational Expectancy 


The Concept of Transience 






Things: The Throw-Away 



The Paper Wedding Gown 


The Missing Supermarket 


The Economics of 



The Portable Playground 


The Modular “Fun Palace ” 


The Rental Revolution 


Temporary Needs 


The Fad Machine 




Places: The New Nomads 


The 3,000,000-Mile Club 


Flamenco in Sweden 


Migration to the Future 


Suicides and Hitch-hikers 


The Mournful Movers 


The Homing Instinct 


The Demise of Geography 




People: The Modular Man 


The Cost of Involvement 


The Duration of Human 



The Hurry-up Welcome 


Friendships in the Future 


Monday -to -Friday Friends 


Recruits and Defectors 




How to Lose Friends 


How Many Friends? 


Training Children for Turnover 121 



Organization: The Coming 



Catholics, Cliques and Coffee 



The Organizational Upheaval 


The New Ad-hocracy 


The Collapse of Hierarchy 


Beyond Bureaucracy 




Information: The Kinetic 



Twiggy and the K-Mesons 


The Freudian Wave 


A Blizzard of Best Sellers 
The Engineered Message 
Mozart on the Run 
The Semi-literate Shakespeare 
Art: Cubists and Kineticists 
The Neural Investment 


Chapter 9. The Scientific Trajectory 
The New Atlantis 
Sunlight and Personality 
The Voice of the Dolphin 
The Biological Factory 
The Pre-designed Body 
The Transient Organ 
The Cyborgs among Us 
The Denial of Change 

Chapter 10. The Experience Makers 
The Psychic Cake-Mix 
“ Serving Wenches” in the Sky 
Experiential Industries 
Simulated Environments 
Live Environments 
The Economics of Sanity 

Chapter 11. The Fractured Family 

The Mystique of Motherhood 
The Streamlined Family 
Bio-Parents and Pro-Parents 
Communes and Homosexual 


The Odds Against Love 
Temporary Marriage 
Marriage Trajectories 
The Demands of Freedom 




























Chapter 12. The Origins of Overchoice 263 

Design-a-Mustang 264 

Computers and Classrooms 270 

“Drag Queen” Movies 276 

Chapter 13. A Surfeit of Subcults 284 

Scientists and Stockbrokers 286 

The Fun Specialists 288 

The Youth Ghetto 290 

Marital Tribes 293 

Hippies, Incorporated 294 

Tribal Turnover 296 

The Ignoble Savage 299 

Chapter 14. A Diversity of Life Styles 303 

Motorcyclists and Intellectuals 305 

Style-Setters and Mini-Heroes 308 

Life-Style Factories 309 

The Power of Style 312 

A Superabundance of Selves 316 

The Free Society 321 


Chapter 15. Future Shock: The Physical 

Dimension 325 

Life Change and Illness 327 

Response to Novelty 334 

The Adaptive Reaction 337 

Chapter 16. Future Shock: The 

Psychological Dimension 343 

The Overstimulated Individual 344 

Bombardment of the Senses 348 

Information Overload 350 

Decision Stress 355 

Victims of Future Shock 358 

The Future-shocked Society 365 


Chapter 17. Coping with Tomorrow 371 

Direct Coping 374 

Personal Stability Zones 377 

Situational Grouping 383 

Crisis Counseling 385 

Half-ivay Houses 388 

Enclaves of the Past 390 

Enclaves of the Future 392 

Global Space Pageants 393 

Chapter 18. Education in the Future 

Tense 398 

The Industrial Era School 399 

The New Educational 
Revolution 402 

The Organizational Attack 405 

Yesterday’s Curriculum Today 409 
A Diversity of Data 411 

A System of Skills 413 

The Strategy of Futureness 418 

Chapter 19. Taming Technology 428 

Technological Backlash 430 

Selecting Cultural Styles 432 

Transistors and Sex 437 

A Technology Ombudsman 440 

The Environmental Screen 443 

Chapter 20. The Strategy of Social 

Futurism 446 

The Death of Technocracy 447 

The Humanization of the 
Planner 452 

Time Horizons 
Anticipatory Democracy 












This is a book about what happens to people when 
they are overwhelmed by change. It is about the ways 
in which we adapt— or fail to adapt— to the future. 

Much has been written about the future. Yet, for 
the most part, books about the world to come sound 
a harsh metallic note. These pages, by contrast, con- 
cern themselves with the “soft” or human side of 
tomorrow. Moreover, they concern themselves with 
the steps by which we are likely to reach tomorrow. 
They deal with common, everyday matters— the prod- 
ucts we buy and discard, the places we leave behind, 
the corporations we inhabit, the people who pass at an 
ever faster clip through our lives. The future of friend- 
ship and family life is probed. Strange new subcul- 
tures and life styles are investigated, along with an 
array of other subjects from politics and playgrounds 
to skydiving and sex. 

What joins all these— in the book as in life— is the 
roaring current of change, a current so powerful today 
that it overturns institutions, shifts our values and 
shrivels our roots. Change is the process by which the 
future invades our lives, and it is important to look at 
it closely, not merely from the grand perspectives of 
history, but also from the vantage point of the living, 
breathing individuals who experience it. 




The acceleration of change in our time is, itself, an 
elemental force. This accelerative thrust has personal 
and psychological, as well as sociological, conse- 
quences. In the pages ahead, these effects of accelera- 
tion are, for the first time, systematically explored. 
The book argues forcefully, I hope, that, unless man 
quickly learns to control the rate of change in his 
personal affairs as well as in society at large, we are 
doomed to a massive adaptational breakdown!. 

In 1965, in an article in Horizon, I coined the term 
“future shock” to describe the shattering stress and 
disorientation that we induce in individuals by sub- 
jecting them to too much change in too short a time 
Fascinated by this concept, I spent the next five years 
visiting scores of universities, research centers, labora- 
tories, and government agencies, reading countless 
articles and scientific papers and interviewing literally 
hundreds of experts on different aspects of change, 
coping behavior, and the future. Nobel prizewinners, 
hippies, psychiatrists, physicians, businessmen, profes- 
sional futurists, philosophers, and educators gave 
voice to their concern over change, their anxieties 
about adaptation, their fears about the future. 1 came 
away from this experience with two disturbing con- 

First, it became clear that future shock is no longer 
a distantly potential danger, but a real sickness from 
which increasingly large numbers already suffer. This 
psycho-biological condition can be described m medi- 
cal and psychiatric terms. It is the disease of change 

Second, I gradually came to be appalled by how 
little is actually known about adaptivity, either by 
those who call for and create vast changes in our 
society, or by those who supposedly prepare us to 
cope with those changes. Earnest intellectuals talk 
bravely about “educating for change” or “preparing 
people for the future.” But we know virtually nothing 
about how to do it. In the most rapidly changing en- 
vironment to which man has ever been exposed, we 



remain pitifully ignorant of how the human animal 

Our psychologists and politicians alike are puzzled 
by the seemingly irrational resistance to change exhib- 
ited by certain individuals and groups. The corpora- 
tion head who wants to reorganize a department, the 
educator who wants to introduce a new teaching 
method, the mayor who wants to achieve peaceful 
integration of the races in his city— all, at one time or 
another, face this blind resistance. Yet we know little 
about its sources. By the same token, whv do some 
men hunger, even rage for change, doing all in their 
power to create it, while others flee from it? I not only 
found no ready answers to such questions, but dis- 
covered that we lack even an adequate theory of 
adaptation, without which it is extremely unlikely that 
we will ever find the answers. 

The purpose of this book, therefore, is to help us 
come to terms with the future— to help us cope more 
effectively with both personal and social change by 
deepening our understanding of how men respond to 
it. Toward this end, it puts forward a broad new 
theory of adaptation. 

It also calls attention to an important, though often 
overlooked, distinction. Almost invariably, research 
into the effects of change concentrate on the destina- 
tions toward which change carries us, rather than the 
speed of the journey. In this book, I try to show that 
the rate of change has implications quite apart from, 
and sometimes more important than, the directions 
of eh mge. No attempt to understand adaptivity can 
succeed until this fact is grasped. Any attempt to 
define the “content” of change must include the con- 
sequences of pace itself as part of that content. 

William Ogbum, with his celebrated theory of cul- 
tural lag, pointed out how social stresses arise out of 
the uneven rates of change in different sectors of so- 
ciety. The concept of future shock— and the theory of 
adaptation that derives from it— strongly suggests that 
there must be balance, not merely between rates of 

^ Introduction 

change in different sectors, but between the pace of 
environmental change and the limited pace of human 
response. For future shock grows out of the increasing 
lag between the two. 

The book is intended to do more than present a 
theory, however. It is also intended to demonstrate a 
method. Previously, men studied the past to shed light 
on the present. I have turned the time-mirror around, 
convinced that a coherent image of the future can 
also shower us with valuable insights into today. We 
shall find it increasingly difficult to understand our 
personal and public problems without making use of 
the future as an intellectual tool. In the pages ahead, 

I deliberately exploit this tool to show what it can do. 

Finally, and by no means least important, the book 
sets out to change the reader in a subtle yet significant 
sense. For reasons that will become clear in the pages 
that follow, successful coping with rapid change will 
require most of us to adopt a new stance toward the 
future, a new sensitive awareness of the role it plays 
in the present. This book is designed to increase the 
future-consciousness of its reader. The degree to which 
the reader, after finishing the book, finds himself 
thinking about, speculating about, or trying to antici- 
pate future events, will provide one measure of its 

With these ends stated, several reservations are in 
order. One has to do with the perishability of fact. 
Every seasoned reporter has had the experience of 
working on a fast-breaking story that changes its shape 
and meaning even before his words are put down on 
paper. Today the whole world is a fast-breaking story. 
It is inevitable, therefore, in a book written oyer the 
course of several years, that some of its facts wall have 
been superseded betw'een the time or research and 
writing and the time of publication. Professors identi- 
fied with University A move, in the interim, to Univer- 
sity B. Politicians identified with Position X shift, in 
the meantime, to Position Y. 

While a conscientious effort has been made during 



writing to update Future Shock, some of the facts 
presented are no doubt already obsolete. (This, of 
course, is true of many books, although authors don’t 
like to talk about it. ) The obsolescence of data has a 
special significance here, however, serving as it does 
to verify the book’s own thesis about the rapidity of 
change. Writers have a harder and harder time keep- 
ing up with reality. We have not yet learned to con- 
ceive, research, write and publish in “real time.” 
Readers, therefore, must concern themselves more 
and more with general theme, rather than detail. 

Another reservation has to do with the verb “will.” 
No serious futurist deals in “predictions.” These are 
left for television oracles and newspaper astrologers. 
No one even faintly familiar with the complexities of 
forecasting lays claim to absolute knowledge of tomor- 
row. In those deliciously ironic words purported to 
be a Chinese proverb: “To prophesy is extremely 
difficult— especially with respect to the future.” 

This means that every statement about the future 
ought, by rights, be accompanied by a string of quali- 
fiers— ifs, ands, buts, and on the other hands. Yet to 
enter every appropriate qualification in a book of this 
land would be to bury the reader under an avalanche 
of maybes. Rather than do this, I have taken the 
liberty of speaking firmly, without hesitation, trusting 
that the intelligent reader will understand the stylistic 
problem. The word “will” should always be read as 
though it were preceded by “probably” or “in my 
opinion.” Similarly, all dates applied to future events 
need to be taken with a grain of judgment. 

The inability to speak with precision and certainty 
about the future, however, is no excuse for silence. 
Where “hard data” are available, of course, they ought 
to be taken into account. But where they are lacking, 
the responsible writer— even the scientist— has both a 
right and an obligation to rely on other kinds of evi- 
dence, including impressionistic or anecdotal data and 
the opinions of well-informed people. I have done so 
throughout and offer no apology for it. 

g Introduction 

In dealing with the future, at least for the purpose 
at hand, it is more important to be imaginative and 
insightful than to be one hundred percent “right.” 
Theories do not have to be “right” to be enormously 
useful. Even error has its uses. The maps of the world 
drawn by the medieval cartographers were so hope- 
lessly inaccurate, so filled with factual error, that they 
elicit condescending smiles today when almost the 
entire surface of the earth has been charted. Yet the 
great explorers could never have discovered the New 
World without them. Nor could the better, more accu- 
rate maps of today been drawn until men, working 
with the limited evidence available to them, set down 
on paper their bold conceptions of worlds they had 
never seen. 

We who explore the future are like those ancient 
mapmakers, and it is in this spirit that the concept of 
future shock and the theory of the adaptive range are 
presented here — not as final word, but as a first ap- 
proximation of the new realities, filled with danger 
and promise, created by the accelerative thrust. 

Part One: 


Chapter 1 


In the three short decades between now and the 
twenty-first century, millions of ordinary, psychologi- 
cally normal people will face an abrupt collision with 
the future. Citizens of the world’s richest and most 
technologically advanced nations, many of them will 
find it increasingly painful to keep up with the inces- 
sant demand for change that characterizes our time. 
For them, the future will have arrived too soon. 

This book is about change and how we adapt to it. 
It is about those who seem to thrive on change, who 
crest its waves joyfully, as well as those multitudes of 
others who resist it or seek flight from it. It is about 
our capacity to adapt. It is about the future and the 
shock that its arrival brings. 

Western society for the past 300 years has been 
caught up in a fire storm of change. This storm, far 
from abating, now appears to be gathering force. 
Change sweeps through the highly industrialized 
countries with waves of ever accelerating speed and 
unprecedented impact. It spawns in its wake all sorts 
of curious social flora— from psychedelic churches and 
“free universities” to science cities in the Arctic and 
wife-swap clubs in California. 

It breeds odd personalities, too: children who at 
twelve are no longer childlike; adults who at fifty are 

10 The Death of Permanence 

children of twelve. There are rich men who playact 
poverty, computer programmers who turn on with 
LSD. There are anarchists who, beneath their dirty 
denim shirts, are outrageous conformists, and con- 
formists who, beneath their button-down collars, are 
outrageous anarchists. There are married priests and 
atheist ministers and Jewish Zen Buddhists. We have 
pop . . . and op • . . and art cinsticjtie . . • There are 
Playboy Clubs and homosexual movie theaters . . . 
amphetamines and tranquilizers . . . anger, affluence, 
and oblivion. Much oblivion. 

Is there some way to explain so strange a scene 
without recourse to the jargon of psychoanalysis or 
the murky cliches of existentialism? A strange new 
society is apparently erupting in our midst. Is there 
a way to understand it, to shape its development? 
How can we come to terms with it? 

Much that now strikes us as incomprehensible would 
be far less so if we took a fresh look at the racing rate 
of change that makes reality seem, sometimes, like a 
kaleidoscope run wild. For the acceleration of change 
does not merely buffet industries or nations. It is a 
concrete force that reaches deep into our personal 
lives, compels us to act out new roles, and confronts 
us with the danger of a new and powerfully upsetting 
psychological disease. This new disease can be called 
“future shock,” and a knowledge of its sources and 
symptoms helps explain many things that otherwise 
defy rational analysis. 


The parallel term “culture shock” has already begun 
to creep into the popular vocabulary. Culture shock 
is the effect that immersion in a strange culture has on 
the unprepared visitor. Peace Corps volunteers suffer 
from it in Borneo or Brazil. Marco Polo probably 
suffered from it in Cathay. Culture shock is what 
happens when a traveler suddenly finds himself in a 


The 800th Lifetime 

place where yes may mean no, where a “fixed price” 
is negotiable, where to be kept waiting in an outer 
office is no cause for insult, where laughter may signify 
anger. It is what happens when the familiar psycho- 
logical cues that help an individual to function in 
society are suddenly withdrawn and replaced by new 
ones that are strange or incomprehensible. 

The culture shock phenomenon accounts for much 
of the bewilderment, frustration, and disorientation 
that plagues Americans in their dealings with other 
societies. It causes a breakdown in communication, a 
misreading of reality, an inability to cope. Yet culture 
shock is relatively mild in comparison with the much 
more serious malady, future shock. Future shock is 
the dizzying disorientation brought on by the prema- 
ture arrival of the future. It may well be the most 
important disease of tomorrow. 

Future shock will not be found in Index Medicus 
or in any listing of psychological abnormalities. Yet, 
unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it, millions 
of human beings will find themselves increasingly 
disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal ratio- 
nally with their environments. The malaise, mass neu- 
rosis, irrationality, and free-floating violence already 
apparent in contemporary life are merely a foretaste 
of what may lie ahead unless we come to understand 
and treat this disease. 

Future shock is a time phenomenon, a product of 
the greatly accelerated rate of change in society. It 
arises from the superimposition of a new culture on 
an old one. It is culture shock in one’s own society. 
But its impact is far worse. For most Peace Corps 
men, in fact most travelers, have the comforting 
knowledge that the culture they left behind will be 
there to return to. The victim of future shock does not. 

Take an individual out of his own culture and set 
him down suddenly in an environment sharply differ- 
ent from his own, with a different set of cues to react 
to— different conceptions of time, space, work, love, 
religion, sex, and everything else— then cut him off 

12 The Death of Permanence 

from anv hope of retreat to a more familiar social 
landscape, and the dislocation he suffers is doubly 
severe. Moreover, if this new culture is itself in con- 
stant turmoil, and if— worse yet— its values are inces- 
santly changing, the sense of disorientation will be 
still further intensified. Given few clues as to what 
kind of behavior is rational under the radically new 
circumstances, the victim may well become a hazard 
to himself and others. 

Now imagine not merely an individual but an en- 
tire society, an entire generation— including its weak- 
est, least intelligent, and most irrational members 
— suddenly transported into this new world. The result 
is mass disorientation, future shock on a grand scale. 

This is the prospect that man now faces. Change is 
avalanching upon our heads and most people are 
grotesquely unprepared to cope with it. 


Is all this exaggerated? I think not. It has become a 
cliche to say that what we are now living through is 
a “second industrial revolution.” This phrase is sup- 
posed to impress us with the speed and profundity of 
the change around us. But in addition to being plati- 
tudinous, it is misleading. For what is occurring now 
is, in all likelihood, bigger, deeper, and more impor- 
tant than the industrial revolution. Indeed, a growing 
body of reputable opinion asserts that the present 
movement represents nothing less than the second 
great divide in human history, comparable in magni- 
tude only with that first great break in historic 
continuity, the shift from barbarism to civilization. 

This idea crops up with increasing frequency in the 
writings of scientists and technologists. Sir George 
Thomson, the British physicist and Nobel prizewinner, 
suggests in The Foreseeable Future that the nearest 
historic parallel with today is not the industrial revo- 
lution but rather the “invention of agriculture in the 


The 800th Lifetime 

neolithic age.” John Diebold, the American automa- 
tion expert, warns that “the effects of the technological 
revolution we are now living through will be deeper 
than any social change we have experienced before.” 
Sir Leon Bagrit, the British computer manufacturer, 
insists that automation by itself represents “the great- 
est change in the whole history of mankind.” 

Nor are the men of science and technology alone in 
these views. Sir Herbert Read, the philosopher of art, 
tells us that we are living through “a revolution so 
fundamental that we must search many past centuries 
for a parallel. Possibly the only comparable change is 
the one that took place between the Old and the New 
Stone Age . . And Kurt W. Marek, who under the 
name C. W. Ceram is best-known as the author of 
Gods, Graves and Scholars, observes that “we, in the 
twentieth century, are concluding an era of mankind 
five thousand years in length . . . We are not, as 
Spengler supposed, in the situation of Rome at the be- 
ginning of the Christian West, but in that of the year 
3000 b.c. We open our eyes like prehistoric man, we 
see a world totally new.” 

One of the most striking statements of this theme 
has come from Kenneth Boulding, an eminent econo- 
mist and imaginative social thinker. In justifying his 
view that the present moment represents a crucial 
turning point in human history, Boulding observes that 
“as far as many statistical series related to activities 
of mankind are concerned, the date that divides hu- 
man history into two equal parts is well within living 
memory.” In effect, our century represents The Great 
Median Strip running down the center of human his- 
tory. Thus he asserts, “The world of today ... is as 
different from the world in which I was bom as that 
world was from Julius Caesar’s. I was bom in the 
middle of human history, to date, roughly. Almost as 
much has happened since I was bom as happened 

This startling statement can be illustrated in a num- 
ber of ways. It has been observed, for example, that 

14 The Death of Permanence 

if the last 50,000 years of man’s existence were divided 
into lifetimes of approximately sixty-two years each, 
there have been about 800 such lifetimes. Of these 
800, fully 650 were spent in caves. 

Only during the last seventy lifetimes has it been 
possible to communicate effectively from one lifetime 
to another— as writing made it possible to do. Only 
during the last six lifetimes did masses of men ever 
see a printed word. Only during the last four has it 
been possible to measure time with any precision. 
Only in the last two has anyone anywhere used an 
electric motor. And the overwhelming majority of all 
the material goods we use in daily life today have 
been developed within the present, the 800th, lifetime. 

This 800th lifetime marks a sharp break with all 
past human experience because during this lifetime 
man’s relationship to resources has reversed itself. This 
is most evident in the field of economic development. 
Within a single lifetime, agriculture, the original basis 
of civilization, has lost its dominance in nation after 
nation. Today in a dozen major countries agriculture 
employs fewer than 15 percent of the economically 
active population. In the United States, whose farms 
feed 200,000,000 Americans plus the equivalent of 
another 160,000,000 people around the world, this 
figure is already below 6 percent and it is still shrink- 
ing rapidly. 

Moreover, if agriculture is the first stage of eco- 
nomic development and industrialism the second, we 
can now see that still another stage — the third— has 
suddenly been reached. In about 1956 the United 
States became the first major power in which more 
than 50 percent of the non-farm labor force ceased to 
wear the blue collar of factory or manual labor. Blue 
collar workers were outnumbered by those in the so- 
called white-collar occupations— in retail trade, admin- 
istration, communications, research, education, and 
other service categories. Within the same lifetime a 
society for the first time in human history not only 
threw off the yoke of agriculture, but managed within 

The 800th Lifetime 15 

a few brief decades to throw off the yoke of manual 
labor as well. The world’s first service economy had 
been bom. 

Since then, one after another of the technologically 
advanced countries have moved in the same direction. 
Today, in those nations in which agriculture is down 
to the 15 percent level or below, white collars already 
outnumber blue in Sweden, Britain, Belgium, Canada, 
and the Netherlands. Ten thousand years for agricul- 
ture. A century or two for industrialism. And now, 
opening before us— super-industrialism. 

Jean Fourastie, the French planner and social phi- 
losopher, has declared that “Nothing will be less in- 
dustrial than the civilization bom of the industrial 
revolution.” The significance of ■ this staggering fact 
has yet to be digested. Perhaps U Thant, Secretary 
General of the United Nations, came closest to sum- 
marizing the meaning of the shift to super-industrial- 
ism when he declared that “The central stupendous 
truth about developed economies today is that they 
can have-in anything but the shortest run-the kind 
and scale of resources they decide to have. ... It is 
no longer resources that limit decisions. It is the deci- 
sion that makes the resources. This is the fundamental 
revolutionary change— perhaps the most revolutionary 
man has ever known.” This monumental reversal has 
taken place in the 800th lifetime. 

This lifetime is also different from all others because 
of the astonishing expansion of the scale and scope of 
change. Clearly, there have been other lifetimes in 
which epochal upheavals occurred. Wars, plagues, 
earthquakes, and famine rocked many an earlier social 
order. But these shocks and upheavals were contained 
within the borders of one or a group of adjacent 
societies. It took generations, even centuries, for their 
impact to spread beyond these borders. 

In our lifetime the boundaries have burst. Today the 
network of social ties is so tightly woven that the con- 
sequences of contemporary events radiate instantane- 
ously around the world. A war in Vietnam alters basic 

IS The Death of Permanence 

political alignments in Peking, Moscow, and Washing- 
ton, touches off protests in Stockholm, affects financial 
transactions in Zurich, triggers secret diplomatic moves 
in Algiers. 

Indeed, not only do contemporary events radiate 
instantaneously— now we can be said to be feeling the 
impact of all past events in a new way. For the past is 
doubling back on us. We are caught in what might be 
called a ‘“time skip.” 

An event that affected only a handful of people at 
the time of its occurrence in the past can have large- 
scale consequences today. The Peloponnesian War, for 
example, was little more than a skirmish by modem 
standards. While Athens, Sparta and several nearby 
city-states battled, the population of the rest of the 
globe remained largely unaware of and undisturbed 
by the war. The Zapotec Indians living in Mexico at 
the time were wholly untouched by it. The ancient 
Japanese felt none of its impact. 

Yet the Peloponnesian War deeply altered the fu- 
ture course of Greek history. By changing the move- 
ment of men, the geographical distribution of genes, 
values, and ideas, it affected later events in Rome, 

' and, through Rome, all Europe. Today s Europeans 
are to some small degree different people because that 
/ conflict occurred. 

In turn, in the tightly wired world of today, these 
Europeans influence Mexicans and Japanese alike. 
Whatever trace of impact the Peloponnesian War left 
on the genetic structure, the ideas, and the values of 
today’s Europeans is now exported by them to all 
parts of the world. Thus today s Mexicans and Japan- 
ese feel the distant, twice-removed impact of that war 
even though their ancestors, alive during its occur- 
rence, did not. In this way, the events of the past, 
skipping as it were over generations and centuries, 
rise up to haunt and change us today. 

When we think not merely of the Peloponnesian 
War but of the building of the Great Wall of China, 
the Black Plague, the battle of the Bantu against the 


The 800th Lifetime 

Hamites— indeed, of all the events of the past— the 
cumulative implications of the time-slap principle take 
on weight. Whatever happened to some men in the 
past affects virtually all men today. This was not al- 
ways true. In short, all history is catching up with us, 
and this very difference, paradoxically, underscores 
our break with the past. Thus the scope of change is 
fundamentally altered. Across space and through time, 
change has a power and reach in this, the 800th life- 
time, that it never did before. 

But the final, qualitative difference between this and 
all previous lifetimes is the one most easily overlooked. 
For we have not merely extended the scope and scale 
of change, we have radically altered its pace. We have 
in our time released a totally new social force— a 
stream of change so accelerated that it influences our 
sense of time, revolutionizes the tempo of daily life, 
and affects the very way we “feel” the world around 
us. We no longer “feel” life as men did in the past. 
And this is the ultimate difference, the distinction 
that separates the truly contemporary man from all 
others. For this acceleration lies behind the imperma- 
nence— the transience— that penetrates and tinctures 
our consciousness, radically affecting the way we re- 
late to other people, to things, to the entire universe 
of ideas, art and values. 

To understand what is happening to us as we move 
into the age of super-industrialism, we must analyze 
the processes of acceleration and confront the concept 
of transience. If acceleration is a new social force, 
transience is its psychological counterpart, and without 
an understanding of the role it plays in contempo- 
rary human behavior, all our theories of personality, 
all our psychology, must remain pre-modem. Psychol- 
ogy without the concept of transience cannot take 
account of precisely those phenomena that are peculi- 
arly contemporary. 

By changing our relationship to the resources that 
surround us, by violently expanding the scope of 
change, and, most crucially, by accelerating its pace, 

18 The Death of Permanence 

we have broken irretrievably with the past. We have 
cut ourselves off from the old ways of thinking, of 
feeling, of adapting. We have set the stage for a 
completely new society and we are now racing toward 
it. This is the crux of the 800th lifetime. And it is 
this that calls into question man’s capacity for adapta- 
tion-how will he fare in this new society? Can he 
adapt to its imperatives? And if not, can he alter these 

Before even attempting to answer such questions, 
we must focus on the twin forces of acceleration and 
transience. We must learn how they alter the texture 
of existence, hammering our lives and psyches into 
new and unfamiliar shapes. We must understand how 
—and why— they confront us, for the first time, with 
the explosive potential of future shock. 

Chapter 2 


Early in March, 1967, in eastern Canada, an eleven- 
year-old child died of old age. 

Ricky Gallant was only eleven years old chrono- 
logically, but he suffered from an odd disease called 
progeria— advanced aging— and he exhibited many of 
the characteristics of a ninety-year -old person. The 
symptoms of progeria are senility, hardened arteries, 
baldness, slack, and wrinkled skin. In effect, Ricky 
was an old man when he died, a long lifetime of bio- 
logical change having been packed into his eleven 
short years. 

Cases of progeria are extremely rare. Yet in a meta- 
phorical sense the high technology societies all suffer 
from this peculiar ailment. They are not growing old 
or senile. But they are experiencing super-normal rates 
of change. 

Many of us have a vague “feeling” that things are 
moving faster. Doctors and executives alike complain 
that they cannot keep up with the latest developments 
in their fields. Hardly a meeting or conference takes 
place today without some ritualistic oratory about 
“the challenge of change.” .Among many there is an 
uneasy mood— a suspicion that change is out of con- 

Not everyone, however, shares this anxiety. Millions 



The Death of Permanence 

sleepwalk their way through their lives as if nothing 
had changed since the 1930’s, and as if nothing ever 
will. Living in what is certainly one of the most 
exciting periods in human history, they attempt to 
withdraw from it, to block it out, as if it were possible 
to make it go away by ignoring it. They seek a 
“separate peace,” a diplomatic immunity from change. 

One sees them everywhere: Old people, resigned to 
living out their years, attempting to avoid, at any cost, 
the intrusions of the new. Already-old people of thirty- 
five and forty-five, nervous about student riots, sex, 
LSD, or miniskirts, feverishly attempting to persuade 
themselves that, after all, youth was always rebellious, 
and that what is happening today is no different from 
the past. Even among the young we find an incompre- 
hension of change: students so ignorant of the past 
that they see nothing unusal about the present. 

The disturbing fact is that the vast majority of peo- 
ple, including educated and otherwise sophisticated 
people, find the idea of change so threatening that they 
attempt to deny its existence. Even many people who 
understand intellectually that change is accelerating, 
have not internalized that knowledge, do not take this 
critical social fact into account in planning their own 
personal lives. 


How do we know that change is accelerating? There 
is, after all, no absolute way to measure change. In 
the awesome complexity of the universe, even within 
any given society, a virtually infinite number of 
streams of change occur simultaneously. All “things” 
—from the tiniest virus to the greatest galaxy— are, in 
reality, not things at all, but processes. There is no 
static point, no nirvana-like un-change, against which 
to measure change. Change is, therefore, necessarily 

It is also uneven. If all processes occurred at the 

The Accelerative Thrust 


same speed, or even if they accelerated or decelerated 
in unison, it would be impossible to observe change. 
The future, however, invades the present at differing 
speeds. Thus it becomes possible to compare the speed 
of different processes as they unfold. We know, for 
example, that compared with the biological evolution 
of the species, cultural and social evolution is ex- 
tremely rapid. We know that some societies transform 
themselves technologically or economically more rap- 
idly than others. We also know that different sectors 
within the same society exhibit different rates of 
change— the disparity that William Ogbum labeled 
“cultural lag.” It is precisely the unevenness of change 
that makes it measurable. 

We need, however, a yardstick that makes it possi- 
ble to compare highly diverse processes, and this 
yardstick is time. Without time, change has no mean- 
ing. And without change, time would stop. Time can 
be conceived as the intervals during which events 
occur. Just as money permits us to place a value on 
both apples and oranges, time permits us to compare 
unlike processes. When we say that it takes three 
years to build a dam, we are really saying it takes 
three times as long as it takes the earth to circle the 
sun or 31,000,000 times as long as it takes to sharpen 
a pencil. Time is the currency of exchange that makes 
it possible to compare the rates at which very differ- 
ent processes play themselves out. 

Given the unevenness of change and armed with 
this yardstick, we still face exhausting difficulties in 
measuring change. When we speak of the rate of 
change, we refer to the number of events crowded 
into an arbitrarily fixed interval of time. Thus we 
need to define the “events.” We need to select our 
intervals with precision. We need to be careful about 
the conclusions we draw from the differences we ob- 
serve. Moreover, in the measurement of change, we 
are today far more advanced with respect to physical 
processes than social processes. We know far better, 
for example, how to measure the rate at which blood 


The Death of Permanence 

flows through the body than the rate at which a rumor 
flows through society. 

Even with all these qualifications, however, there is 
widespread agreement, reaching from historians and 
archaeologists all across the spectrum to scientists, 
sociologists, economists and psychologists, that, many 
social processes are speeding up— strikingly, even 


Painting with the broadest of brush strokes, biologist 
Julian Huxley informs us that “The tempo of human 
evolution during recorded history is at least 100,000 
times as rapid as that of pre-human evolution.” Inven- 
tions or improvements of a magnitude that took per- 
haps 50,000 years to accomplish during the early 
Paleolithic era were, he says, “run through in a mere 
millennium toward its close; and with the advent of 
settled civilization, the unit of change soon became 
reduced to the century.” The rate of change, accelerat- 
ing throughout the past 5000 years, has become, in his 
words, “particularly noticeable during the past 300 

C. P. Snow, the novelist and scientist, also com- 
ments on the new visibility of change. “Until this 
century . . .” he writes, social change was “so slow, 
that it would pass unnoticed in one person’s lifetime. 
That is no longer so. The rate of change has increased 
so much that our imagination can’t keep up.” Indeed, 
says social psychologist Warren Bennis, the throttle 
has been pushed so far forward in recent years that 
“No exaggeration, no hyperbole, no outrage can real- 
istically describe the extent and pace of change. . . . 
In fact, only the exaggerations appear to be true.” 

What changes justify such super-charged language? 
Let us look at a few— change in the process by which 
man forms cities, for example. We are now undergoing 
the most extensive and rapid urbanization the world 

The Accelerative Thrust 


has ever seen. In 1850 only four cities on the face of 
the earth had a population of 1,000,000 or more. By 
1900 the number had increased to nineteen. But by 
1960, there were 141, and today world urban popula- 
tion is rocketing upward at a rate of 6.5 percent per 
year, according to Edgar de Vries and J. P. Thysse of 
the Institute of Social Science in The Hague. This 
single stark statistic means a doubling of the earth’s 
urban population within eleven years. 

One way to grasp the meaning of change on so 
phenomenal a scale is to imagine what would happen 
if all existing cities, instead of expanding, retained 
their present size. If this were so, in order to accom- 
modate the new urban millions we would have to 
build a duplicate city for each of the hundreds that 
already dot the globe. A new Tokyo, a new Hamburg, 
a new Rome and Rangoon— and all within eleven 
years. (This explains why French urban planners are 
sketching subterranean cities— stores, museums, ware- 
houses and factories to be built under the earth, and 
why a Japanese architect has blueprinted a city to be 
built on stilts out over the ocean. ) 

The same accelerative tendency is instantly appar- 
ent in man’s consumption of energy. Dr. Homi Bhabha, 
the late Indian atomic scientist who chaired the first 
International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of 
Atomic Energy, once analyzed this trend. “To illus- 
trate,” he said, “let us use the letter ‘Q’ to stand for 
the energy derived from burning some 33,000 million 
tons of coal. In the eighteen and one half centuries 
after Christ, the total energy consumed averaged less 
than one half Q per century. But by 1850, the rate 
had risen to one Q per century. Today, the rate is 
about ten Q per century.” This means, roughly speak- 
ing, that half of all the energy consumed by man in 
the past 2,000 years has been consumed in the last 
one hundred. 

Also dramatically evident is the acceleration of 
economic growth in the nations now racing toward 
super-industrialism. Despite the fact that they start 

24 The Death of Permanence 

from a large industrial base, the annual percentage 
increases in production in these countries are formida- 
ble. And the rate of increase is itself increasing. 

In France, for example, in the twenty-nine years 
between 1910 and the outbreak of the second world 
war, industrial production rose only 5 percent. Yet 
between 1948 and 1965, in only seventeen years, it 
increased by roughly 220 percent. Today growth rates 
of from 5 to 10 percent per year are not uncommon 
among the most industrialized nations. There are ups 
and downs, of course. But the direction of change has 
been unmistakable. 

Thus for the twenty-one countries belonging to the > 
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Develop- 
ment— by and large, the “have” nations— the average 
annual rate of increase in gross national product in the 
years 1960-1968 ran between 4.5 and 5.0 percent. The 
United States grew at a rate of 4.5 percent, and Japan 
led the rest with annual increases averaging 9.8 per- 

What such numbers imply is nothing less revolu- 
tionary than a doubling of the total output of goods 
and services in the advanced societies about every 
fifteen years— and the doubling times are shrinking. 
This means, generally speaking, that the child reach- 
ing teen age in any of these societies is literally 
surrounded by twice as much of everything newly 
man-made as his parents were at the time he was an 
infant. It means that by the time today’s teen-ager 
reaches age thirty, perhaps earlier, a second doubling 
will have occurred. Within a seventy-year lifetime, 
perhaps five such doublings will take place— meaning, 
since the increases are compounded, that by the time 
the individual reaches old age the society around him 
will be producing thirty-two times as much as when 
he was bom. 

Such changes in the ratio between old and new 
have, as we shall show, an electric impact on the 
habits, beliefs, and self-image of millions. Never in 

The Accelerative Thrust 25 

previous history has this ratio been transformed so 
radically in so brief a flick of time. 


Behind such prodigious economic facts lies that great, 
growling engine of change— technology. This is not 
to say that technology is the only source of change in 
society. Social upheavals can be touched off by a 
change in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, 
by alterations in climate, by changes in fertility, and 
many other factors. Yet technology is indisputably a 
major force behind the accelerative thrust. 

To most people, the term technology conjures up 
images of smoky steel mills or clanking machines. 
Perhaps the classic symbol of technology is still the 
assembly line created by Henry Ford half a century 
ago and made into a potent social icon by Charlie 
Chaplin in Modern Times. This symbol, however, has 
always been inadequate, indeed, misleading, for tech- 
nology has always been more than factories and ma- 
chines. The invention of the horse collar in the mid- 
dle ages led to major changes in agricultural methods 
and was as much a technological advance as the inven- 
tion of the Bessemer furnace centuries later. More- 
over, technology includes techniques, as well as the 
machines that may or may not be necessary to apply 
them. It includes ways to make chemical reactions 
occur, ways to breed fish, plant forests, light theaters, 
count votes or teach history. 

The old symbols of technology are even more mis- 
leading today, when the most advanced technological 
processes are carried out far from assembly lines or 
open hearths. Indeed, in electronics, in space technol- 
ogy, in most of the new industries, relative silence 
and clean surroundings are characteristic— even some- 
times essential. And the assembly line— the organiza- 
tion of armies of men to carry out simple repetitive 
functions— is an anachronism. It is time for our sym- 


The Death of Permanence 

bols of technology to change— to catch up with the 
quickening changes in technology, itself. 

This acceleration is frequently dramatized by a 
thumbnail account of the progress in transportation. 
It has been pointed out, for example, that in 6000 b.c. 
the fastest transportation available to man over long 
distances was the camel caravan, averaging eight miles 
per hour. It was not until about 1600 b.c. when the 
chariot was invented that the maximum speed was 
raised to roughly twenty miles per hour. 

So impressive was this invention, so difficult was it 
to exceed this speed limit, that nearly 3,500 years later, 
when the first mail coach began operating in England 
in 1784, it averaged a mere ten mph. The first steam 
locomotive, introduced in 1825, could muster a top 
speed of only thirteen mph, and the great sailing ships 
of the time labored along at less than half that speed. 
It was probably not until the 1880’s that man, with the 
help of a more advanced steam locomotive, managed 
to reach a speed of one hundred mph. It took the 
human race millions of years to attain that record. 

It took only fifty-eight years, however, to quadruple 
the limit, so that by 1938 airborne man was cracking 
the 400-mph line. It took a mere twenty-year flick of 
time to double the limit again. And by the 1960’s 
rocket planes approached speeds of 4000 mph, and 
men in space capsules were circling the earth at 18,000 
mph. Plotted on a graph, the line representing progress 
in the past generation would leap vertically off the 

Whether we examine distances traveled, altitudes 
reached, minerals mined, or explosive power har- 
nessed, the same accelerative trend is obvious. The 
pattern, here and in a thousand other statistical series, 
is absolutely clear and unmistakable. Millennia or 
centuries go by, and then, in our own times, a sudden 
bursting of the limits, a fantastic spurt forward. 

The reason for this is that technology feeds on itself. 
Technology makes more technology possible, as we 
can see if we look for a moment at the process of 

The Accelerative Thrust 


innovation. Technological innovation consists of three 
stages, linked together into a self-reinforcing cycle. 
First, there is the creative, feasible idea. Second, its 
practical application. Third, its diffusion through so- 

The process is completed, the loop closed, when the 
diffusion of technology embodying the new idea, in 
turn, helps generate new creative ideas. Today there 
is evidence that the time between each of the steps in 
this cycle has been shortened. 

Thus it is not merely true, as frequently noted, that 
90 percent of all the scientists who ever lived are now 
alive, and that new scientific discoveries are being 
made every day. These new ideas are put to work 
much more quickly than ever before. The time be- 
tween original concept and practical use has been 
radically reduced. This is a striking difference between 
ourselves and our ancestors. Appollonius of Perga 
discovered conic sections, but it was 2000 years be- 
fore they were applied to engineering problems. It 
was literally centuries between the time Paracelsus 
discovered that ether could be used as an anaesthetic 
and the time it began to be used for that purpose. 

Even in more recent times the same pattern of delay 
was present. In 1836 a machine was invented that 
mowed, threshed, tied straw into sheaves and poured 
grain into sacks. This machine was itself based on 
technology at least twenty years old at the time. Yet 
it was not until a century later, in the 1930’s, that such 
a combine was actually marketed. The first English 
patent for a typewriter was issued in 1714. But a 
century and a half elapsed before typewriters became 
commercially available. A full century passed between 
the time Nicholas Appert discovered how to can food 
and the time canning became important in the food 

Today such delays between idea and application 
are almost unthinkable. It is not that we are more 
eager or less lazy than our ancestors, but we have, 
with the passage of time, invented all sorts of social 

28 The Death of Permanence 

devices to hasten the process. Thus we find that the 
time between the first and second stages of the inno- 
vative cycle— between idea and application— has been 
cut radically. Frank Lynn, for example, in studying 
twenty major innovations, such as frozen food, anti- 
biotics, integrated circuits and synthetic leather, found 
that since the beginning of this century more than 
sixty percent has been slashed from the average time 
needed for a major scientific discovery to be trans- 
lated into a useful technological form. Today a vast 
and growing research and development industry is 
consciously working to reduce the lag still further. 

But if it takes less time to bring a new idea to the 
marketplace, it also takes less time for it to sweep 
through the society. Thus the interval between the 
second and third stages of the cycle— between applica- 
tion and diffusion— has likewise been sliced, and the 
pace of diffusion is rising with astonishing speed. This 
is borne out by the history of several familiar house- 
hold appliances. Robert B. Young at the Stanford 
Research Institute has studied the span of time be- 
tween the first commercial appearance of a new 
electrical appliance and the time the industry manu- 
facturing it reaches peak production of the item. 

Young found that for a group of appliances intro- 
duced in the United States before 1920— including the 
vacuum cleaner, the electric range, and the refrigerator 
—the average span between introduction and peak 
production was thirty-four years. But for a group that 
appeared in the 1939-1959 period— including the elec- 
tric frying pan, television, and washer-dryer combina- 
tion— the span was only eight years. The lag had 
shrunk by more than 76 percent. “The post-war 
group,” Young declared, “demonstrated vividly the 
rapidly accelerating nature of the modem cycle.” 

The stepped-up pace of invention, exploitation, and 
diffusion, in turn, accelerates the whole cycle still 
further. For new machines or techniques are not mere- 
ly a product, but a source, of fresh creative ideas. 

Each new machine or technique, in a sense, changes 

The Accelerative Thrust 


all existing machines and techniques, by permitting 
us to put them together into new combinations. The 
number of possible combinations rises exponentially 
as the number of new machines or techniques rises 
arithmetically. Indeed, each new combination may, 
itself, be regarded as a new super-machine. 

The computer, for example, made possible a sophis- 
ticated space effort. Linked with sensing devices, 
communications equipment, and power sources, the 
computer became part of a configuration that in ag- 
gregate forms a single new super-machine— a machine 
for reaching into and probing outer space. But for 
machines or techniques to be combined in new ways, 
they have to be altered, adapted, refined or otherwise 
changed. So that the very effort to integrate machines 
into super-machines compels us to make still further 
technological innovations. 

It is vital to understand, moreover, that technologi- 
cal innovation does not merely combine and recombine 
machines and techniques. Important new machines do 
more than suggest or compel changes in other ma- 
chines— they suggest novel solutions to social, philo- 
sophical, even personal problems. They alter man’s 
total intellectual environment— the way he thinks and 
looks at the world. 

We all learn from our environment, scanning it 
constantly— though perhaps unconsciously— for models 
to emulate. These models are not only other people. 
They are, increasingly, machines. By their presence, 
we are subtly conditioned to think along certain lines. 
It has been observed, for example, that the clock came 
along before the Newtonian image of the world as a 
great clock-like mechanism, a philosophical notion 
that has had the utmost impact on man’s intellectual 
development. Implied in this image of the cosmos as 
a great clock were ideas about cause and effect and 
about the importance of external, as against internal, 
stimuli, that shape the everyday behavior of all of us 
today. The clock also affected our conception of time 
so that the idea that a day is divided into twenty-four 


The Death of Permanence 

equal segments of sixty minutes each has become al- 
most literally a part of us. 

Recently, the computer has touched off a storm of 
fresh ideas about man as an interacting part of larger 
systems, about his physiology, the way he learns, the 
way he remembers, the way he makes decisions. Virtu- 
ally every intellectual discipline from political science 
to family psychology has been hit by a wave of imagi- 
native hypotheses triggered by the invention and 
diffusion of the computer— and its full impact has not 
yet struck. And so the innovative cycle, feeding on 
itself, speeds up. 

If technology, however, is to be regarded as a great 
engine, a mighty accelerator, then knowledge must 
be regarded as its fuel. And we thus come to the crux 
of the accelerative process in society, for the engine is 
being fed a richer and richer fuel every day. 


The rate at which man has been storing up useful 
knowledge about himself and the universe has been 
spiraling upward for 10,000 years. The rate took a 
sharp upward leap with the invention of writing, but 
even so it remained painfully slow over centuries of 
time. The next great leap forward in knowledge- 
acquisition did not occur until the invention of mov- 
able type in the fifteenth century by Gutenberg and 
others. Prior to 1500, by the most optimistic estimates, 
Europe was producing books at a rate of 1000 titles 
per year. This means, give or take a bit, that it would 
take a full century to produce a library of 100,000 
titles. By 1950, four and a half centimes later, the 
rate had accelerated so sharply that Europe was pro- 
ducing 120,000 titles a year. What once took a century 
now took only ten months. By 1960, a single decade 
later, the rate had made another significant jump, so 
that a century’s work could be completed in seven and 
a half months. And, by the mid-sixties, the output of 

The Accelerative Thrust 


books on a world scale, Europe included, approached 
the prodigious figure of 1000 titles per day. 

One can hardly argue that every book is a net gain 
for the advancement of knowledge. Nevertheless, we 
find that the accelerative curve in book publication 
does, in fact, crudely parallel the rate at which man 
discovered new knowledge. For example, prior to 
Gutenberg only 11 chemical elements were known. 
Antimony, the 12th, was discovered at about the time 
he was working on his invention. It was fully 200 
years since the 11th, arsenic, had been discovered. 
Had the same rate of discovery continued, we would 
by now have added only two or three additional ele- 
ments to the periodic table since Gutenberg. Instead, 
in the 450 years after his time, some seventy addi- 
tional elements were discovered. And since 1900 we 
have been isolating the remaining elements not at a 
rate of one every two centuries, but of one every 
three years. 

Furthermore, there is reason to believe that the rate 
is still rising sharply. Today, for example, the number 
of scientific journals and articles is doubling, like in- 
dustrial production in the advanced countries, about 
every fifteen years, and according to biochemist Philip 
Siekevitz, “what has been learned in the last three 
decades about the nature of living beings dwarfs in 
extent of knowledge any comparable period of scien- 
tific discovery in the history of mankind.” Today the 
United States government alone generates 100,000 
reports each year, plus 450,000 articles, books and 
papers. On a worldwide basis, scientific and technical 
literature mounts at a rate of some 60,000,000 pages 
a year. 

The computer burst upon the scene around 1950. 
With its unprecedented power for analysis and dis- 
semination of extremely varied kinds of data in unbe- 
lievable quantities and at mind-staggering speeds, it 
has become a major force behind the latest acceleration 
in knowledge-acquisition. Combined with other in- 
creasingly powerful analytical tools for observing the 


The Death of Permanence 

invisible universe around us, it has raised the rate of 
knowledge-acquisition to dumbfounding speeds. 

Francis Bacon told us that “Knowledge ... is 
power.” This can now be translated into contemporary 
terms. In our social setting, “Knowledge is change”— 
and accelerating knowledge-acquisition, fueling the 
great engine of technology, means accelerating change. 


Discovery. Application. Impact. Discovery. We see 
here a chain reaction of change, a long, sharply ris- 
ing curve of acceleration in human social develop- 
ment. This accelerative thrust has now reached a 
level at which it can no longer, by any stretch of the 
imagination, be regarded as “normal.” The normal 
institutions of industrial society can no longer contain 
it, and its impact is shaking up all our social insti- 
tutions. Acceleration is one of the most important 
and least understood of all social forces. 

This, however, is only half the story. For the speed- 
up of change is a psychological force as well. Al- 
though it has been almost totally ignored by psychol- 
ogy, the rising rate of change in the world around 
us disturbs our inner equilibrium, altering the very 
way in which we experience life. Acceleration with- 
out translates into acceleration within. 

This can be illustrated, though in a highly over- 
simplified fashion, if we think of an individual life as 
a great channel through which experience flows. This 
flow of experience consists— or is conceived of con- 
sisting— of innumerable “situations.” Acceleration of 
change in the surrounding society drastically alters 
the flow of situations through this channel. 

There is no neat definition of a situation, yet we 
would find it impossible to cope with experience if 
we did not mentally cut it up into these manageable 
units. Moreover, while the boundary lines between 

The Accelerative Thrust 


situations may be indistinct, every situation has a 
certain “wholeness” about it, a certain integration. 

Every situation also has certain identifiable com- 
ponents. These include “things”— a physical setting 
of natural or man-made objects. Every situation 
occurs in a “place”— a location or arena within which 
the action occurs. (It is not accidental that the Latin 
root “situ” means place.) Every social situation also 
has, by definition, a cast of characters— people. Situ- 
ations also involve a location in the organizational 
network of society and a context of ideas or infor- 
mation. Any situation can be analyzed in terms of 
these five components. 

But situations also involve a separate dimension 
which, because it cuts across all the others, is fre- 
quently overlooked. This is duration— the span of 
time over which the situation occurs. Two situations 
alike in all other respects are not the same at all if 
one lasts longer than another. For time enters into 
the mix in a crucial way, changing the meaning or 
content of situations. Just as the funeral march played 
at too high a speed becomes a merry tinkle of sounds, 
so a situation that is dragged out has a distinctly 
different flavor or meaning than one that strikes us 
in staccato fashion, erupting suddenly and subsiding 
as quickly. 

Here, then, is the first delicate point at which the 
accelerative thrust in the larger society crashes up 
against the ordinary daily experience of the con- 
temporary individual. For the acceleration of change, 
as we shall show, shortens the duration of many situ- 
ations. This not only drastically alters their “flavor,” 
but hastens their passage through the experiential 
channel. Compared with life in a less rapidly chang- 
ing society, more situations now flow through the 
channel in any given interval of time— and this im- 
plies profound changes in human psychology. 

For while we tend to focus on only one situation 
at a time, the increased rate at which situations flow 
past us vastly complicates the entire structure of life, 

34 The Death of Permanence 

multiplying the number of roles we must play and 
the number of choices we are forced to make. This, 
in turn, accounts for the choking sense of complexity 
about contemporary life. 

Moreover, the speeded-up flow-through of situa- 
tions demands much more work from the complex 
focusing mechanisms by which we shift our attention 
from one situation to another. There is more switch- 
ing back and forth, less time for extended, peaceful 
attention to one problem or situation at a time. This 
is what lies behind the vague feeling noted earlier 
that “Things are moving faster.” They are. Around 
us. And through us. 

There is, however, still another, even more power- 
fully significant way in which the acceleration of 
change in society increases the difficulty of coping 
with life. This stems from the fantastic intrusion of 
novelty, newness into our existence. Each situation is 
unique. But situations often resemble one another. 
This, in fact, is what makes it possible to learn from 
experience. If each situation were wholly novel, 
without some resemblance to previously experienced 
situations, our ability to cope would be hopelessly 

The acceleration of change, however, radically 
alters the balance between novel and familiar situa- 
tions. Rising rates of change thus compel us not mere- 
ly to cope with a faster flow, but with more and more 
situations to which previous personal experience does 
not apply. And the psychological implications of 
this simple fact, which we shall explore later in this 
book, are nothing short of explosive. 

“When things start changing outside, you are go- 
ing to have a parallel change taking place inside,” 
says Christopher Wright of the Institute for the Study 
of Science in Human Affairs. The nature of these 
inner changes is so profound, however, that, as the 
accelerative thrust picks up speed, it will test our 
ability to live within the parameters that have until 
now defined man and society. In the words of psycho- 

The Accelerative Thrust 


analyst Erik Erikson, “In our society at present, the 
‘natural course of events’ is precisely that the rate 
of change should continue to accelerate up to the as- 
yet-unreached limits of human and institutional 

To survive, to avert what we have termed future 
shock, the individual must become infinitely more 
adaptable and capable than ever before. He must 
search out totally new ways to anchor himself, for 
all the old roots— religion, nation, community, fam- 
ily, or profession— are now shaking under the hur- 
ricane impact of the accelerative thrust. Before he 
can do so, however, he must understand in greater 
detail how the effects of acceleration penetrate his 
personal life, creep into his behavior and alter the 
quality of existence. He must, in other words, under- 
stand transience. 

Chapter 3 


His picture was, until recently, everywhere: on tele- 
vision, on posters that stared out at one in airports 
and railroad stations, on leaflets, matchbooks and 
magazines. He was an inspired creation of Madison 
Avenue— a fictional character with whom millions 
could subconsciously identify. Young and clean-cut, 
he carried an attache case, glanced at his watch, and 
looked like an ordinary businessman scurrying to his 
next appointment. He had, however, an enormous 
protuberance on his back. For sticking out from be- 
tween his shoulder blades was a great, butterfly- 
shaped key of the type used to wind up mechanical 
toys. The text that accompanied his picture urged 
keyed-up executives to “unwind”— to slow down— at 
the Sheraton Hotels. This wound-up man-on-the-go 
was, and still is, a potent symbol of the people of the 
future, millions of whom feel just as driven and hur- 
ried as if they, too, had a huge key in the back. 

The average individual knows little and cares less 
about the cycle of technological innovation or the re- 
lationship between knowledge-acquisition and the 
rate of change. He is, on the other hand, keenly 
aware of the pace of his own life— whatever that 
pace may be. 

The pace of life is frequently commented on by 



The Pace of Life 

ordinary people. Yet, oddly enough, it has received 
almost no attention from either psychologists or so- 
ciologists. This is a gaping inadequacy in the be- 
havioral sciences, for the pace of life profoundly in- 
fluences behavior, evoking strong and contrasting re- 
actions from different people. 

It is, in fact, not too much to say that the pace of 
life draws a line through humanity, dividing us into 
camps, triggering bitter misunderstanding between 
parent and child, between Madison Avenue and 
Main Street, between men and women, between 
American and European, between East and West. 


The inhabitants of the earth are divided not only by 
race, nation, religion or ideology, but also, in a sense, 
by their position in time. Examining the present pop- 
ulations of the globe, we find a tiny group who still 
live, hunting and food-foraging, as men did millennia 
ago. Others, the vast majority of mankind, depend 
not on bear-hunting or berry-picking, but on agricul- 
ture. They live, in many respects, as their ancestors 
did centuries ago. These two groups taken together 
compose perhaps 70 percent of all living human be- 
ings. They are the people of the past. 

By contrast, somewhat more than 25 percent of 
the earth’s population can be found in the indus- 
trialized societies. They lead modern lives. They are 
products of the first half of the twentieth century, 
molded by mechanization and mass education, 
brought up with lingering memories of their own 
country’s agricultural past. They are, in effect, the 
people of the present. 

The remaining two or three percent of the world’s 
population, however, are no longer people of either 
the past or present. For within the main centers of 
technological and cultural change, in Santa Monica, 
California and Cambridge, Massachusetts, in New 

38 The Death of Permanence 

York and London and Tokyo, are millions of men and 
women who can already be said to be living the way 
of life of the future. Trendmakers often without be- 
ing aware of it, they live today as millions more will 
live tomorrow. And while they account for only a few 
percent of the global population today, they already 
form an international nation of the future in our 
midst. They are the advance agents of man, the earli- 
est citizens of the world-wide super-industrial society 
now in the throes of birth. 

What makes them different from the rest of man- 
kind? Certainly, they are richer, better educated, 
more mobile than the majority of the human race. 
They also live longer. But what specifically marks 
the people of the future is the fact that they are 
already caught up in a new, stepped-up pace of life. 
They “live faster” than the people around them. 

Some people are deeply attracted to this highly 
accelerated pace of life— going far out of their way 
to bring it about and feeling anxious, tense or un- 
comfortable when the pace slows. They want des- 
perately to be “where the action is.” (Indeed, some 
hardly care what the action is, so long as it occurs at 
a suitably rapid clip.) James A. Wilson has found, 
for example, that the attraction for a fast pace of 
life is one of the hidden motivating forces behind 
the much publicized “brain- drain”— the mass mi- 
gration of European scientists to the United States 
and Canada. After studying 517 English scientists and 
engineers who migrated, Wilson concluded that it 
was not higher salaries or better research facilities 
alone, but also the quicker tempo that lured them. 
The migrants, he writes, “are not put off by what 
they indicate as the ‘faster pace’ of North America; 
if anything, they appear to prefer this pace to others.” 
Similarly, a white veteran of the civil rights move- 
ment in Mississippi reports: “People who are used to 
a speeded-up urban life . . . can’t take it for long in 
the rural South. That’s why people are always driving 
somewhere for no particular reason. Traveling is the 


The Pace of Life 

drug of The Movement.” Seemingly aimless, this driv- 
ing about is a compensation mechanism. Under- 
standing the powerful attraction that a certain pace 
of life can exert on the individual helps explain much 
otherwise inexplicable or “aimless” behavior. 

But if some people thrive on the new, rapid pace, 
others are fiercely repelled by it and go to extreme 
lengths to “get off the merry-go-round,” as they put 
it. To engage at all with the emergent super-indus- 
trial society means to engage with a faster moving 
world than ever before. They prefer to disengage, 
to idle at their own speed. It is not by chance that 
a musical entitled Stop the World— I Want to Get 
Off was a smash hit in London and New York a few 
seasons ago. 

The quietism and search for new ways to “opt 
out” or “cop out” that characterizes certain (though 
not all) hippies may be less motivated by their loud- 
ly expressed aversion for the values of a technolog- 
ical civilization than by an unconscious effort to es- 
cape from a pace of life that many find intolerable. 
It is no coincidence that they describe society as a 
“rat-race”— a term that refers quite specifically to 

Older people are even more likely to react strongly 
against any further acceleration of change. There is 
a solid mathematical basis for the observation that 
age often correlates with conservatism: time passes 
more swiftly for the old. 

When a fifty-year-old father tells his fifteen-year- 
old son that he will have to wait two years before 
he can have a car of his own, that interval of 730 
days represents a mere 4 percent of the father’s life- 
time to date. It represents over 13 percent of the 
boy’s lifetime. It is hardly strange that to the boy 
the delay seems three or four times longer than to the 
father. Similarly, two hours in the life of a four-year- 
old may be the felt equivalent of twelve horns in the 
life of her twenty-four-year-old mother. Asking the 
child to wait two hours for a piece of candy may be 

40 The Death of Permanence 

the equivalent of asking the mother to wait fourteen 
hours for a cup of coffee. 

There may be a biological basis as well, for such 
differences in subjective response to time. “With ad- 
vancing age,” writes psychologist John Cohen of the 
University of Manchester, “the calendar years seem 
progressively to shrink. In restrospect every year 
seems shorter than the year just completed, possibly 
as a result of the gradual slowing down of metabolic 
processes.” In relation to the slowdown of their own 
biological rhythms, the world would appear to be 
moving faster to older people, even if it were not. 

Whatever the reasons, any acceleration of change 
that has the effect of crowding more situations into 
the experiential channel in a given interval is magni- 
fied in the perception of the older person. As the 
rate of change in society speeds up, more and more 
older people feel the difference keenly. They, too, be- 
come dropouts, withdrawing into a private environ- 
ment, cutting off as many contacts as possible with 
the fast-moving outside world, and, finally, vege- 
tating until death. We may never solve the psycho- 
logical problems of the aged until we find the means 
—through biochemistry or re-education— to alter their 
time sense, or to provide structured enclaves for 
them in which the pace of life is controlled, and 
even, perhaps, regulated according to a “sliding 
scale” calendar that reflects their own subjective per- 
ception of time. 

Much otherwise incomprehensible conflict— be- 
tween generations, between parents and children, 
between husbands and wives— can be traced to dif- 
ferential responses to the acceleration of the pace of 
life. The same is true of clashes between cultures. 

Each culture has its own characteristic pace. F. M. 
Esfandiary, the Iranian novelist and essayist, tells of 
a collision between two different pacing systems 
when German engineers in the pre-World War II 
period were helping to construct a railroad in his 
country. Iranians and Middle Easterners generally 


The Pace of Life 

take a far more relaxed attitude toward time than 
Americans or Western Europeans. When Iranian 
work crews consistently showed up for work ten min- 
utes late, the Germans, themselves super-punctual 
and always in a hurry, fired them in droves. Iranian 
engineers had a difficult time persuading them that 
by Middle Eastern standards the workers were be- 
ing heroically punctual, and that if the firings con- 
tinued there would soon be no one left to do the 
work but women and children. 

This indifference to time can be maddening to 
those who are fast-paced and clock-conscious. Thus 
Italians from Milan or Turin, the industrial cities of 
the North, look down upon the relatively slow-paced 
Sicilians, whose lives are still geared to the slower 
rhythms of agriculture. Swedes from Stockholm or 
Goteborg feel the same way about Laplanders. Amer- 
icans speak with derision of Mexicans for whom mana- 
na is soon enough. In the United States itself, North- 
erners regard Southerners as slow-moving, and 
middle-class Negroes condemn working-class Negroes 
just up from the South for operating on “C.P.T.”— 
Colored People’s Time. In contrast, by comparison 
with almost anyone else, white Americans and Ca- 
nadians are regarded as hustling, fast-moving go- 

Populations sometimes actively resist a change of 
pace. This explains the pathological antagonism to- 
ward what many regard as the “Americanization” 
of Europe. The new technology on which super- 
industrialism is based, much of it blue-printed in 
American research laboratories, brings with it an 
inevitable acceleration of change in society and a 
concomitant speed-up of the pace of individual life 
as well. While anti-American orators single out com- 
puters or Coca-Cola for their barbs, their real ob- 
jection may well be to the invasion of Europe by an 
alien time sense. America, as the spearhead of super- 
industrialism, represents a new, quicker, and very 
much unwanted tempo. 

42 The Death of Permanence 

Precisely this issue is symbolized by the angry out- 
cry that has greeted the recent introduction of Amer- 
ican-style drugstores in Paris. To many Frenchmen, 
their existence is infuriating evidence of a sinister 
“cultural imperialism” on the part of the United 
States. It is hard for Americans to understand so 
passionate a response to a perfectly innocent soda 
fountain. What explains it is the fact that at Le Drug- 
store the thirsty Frenchman gulps a hasty milkshake 
instead of lingering for an hour or two over an aper- 
itif at an outdoor bistro. It is worth noticing that, as 
the new technology has spread in recent years, some 
30,000 bistros have padlocked their doors for good, 
victims, in the words of Time magazine, of a “short- 
order culture.” (Indeed, it may well be that the 
widespread European dislike for Time, itself, is not 
entirely political, but stems unconsciously from the 
connotation of its title. Time, with its brevity and 
breathless style, exports more than the American 
Way of Life. It embodies and exports the American 
Pace of Life.) 


To understand why acceleration in the pace of life 
may prove disruptive and uncomfortable, it is im- 
portant to grasp the idea of “durational expect- 

Man’s perception of time is closely linked with his 
internal rhythms. But his responses to time are cul- 
turally conditioned. Part of this conditioning con- 
sists of building up within the child a series of 
expectations about the duration of events, processes 
or relationships. Indeed, one of the most important 
forms of knowledge that we impart to a child is a 
knowledge of how long things last. This knowledge is 
taught in subtle, informal and often unconscious ways. 
Yet without a rich set of socially appropriate du- 

The Pace of Life 43 

rational expectancies, no individual could function 

From infancy on the child learns, for example, 
that when Daddy leaves for work in the morning, it 
means that he will not return for many hours. (If he 
does, something is wrong; the schedule is askew. The 
child senses this. Even the family dog— having also 
learned a set of durational expectancies— is aware of 
the break in routine.) The child soon learns that 
“mealtime” is neither a one-minute nor a five-hour 
aflair, but that it ordinarily lasts from fifteen minutes 
to an hour. He learns that going to a movie lasts 
two to four hours, but that a visit with the pediatri- 
cian seldom lasts more than one. He learns that the 
school day ordinarily lasts six hours. He learns that a 
relationship with a teacher ordinarily extends over 
a school year, but that his relationship with his 
grandparents is supposed to be of much longer dur- 
ation. Indeed, some relationships are supposed to 
last a lifetime. In adult behavior, virtually all we do, 
from mailing an envelope to making love, is prem- 
ised upon certain spoken or unspoken assumptions 
about duration. 

It is these durational expectancies, different in each 
society but learned early and deeply ingrained, that 
are shaken up when the pace of life is altered. 

This explains a crucial difference between those 
who suffer acutely from the accelerated pace of life 
and those who seem rather to thrive on it. Unless an 
individual has adjusted his durational expectancies to 
take account of continuing acceleration, he is likely 
to suppose that two situations, similar in other re- 
spects, will also be similar in duration. Yet the ac- 
celerative thrust implies that at least certain kinds 
of situations will be compressed in time. 

The individual who has internalized the principle 
of acceleration— who understands in his bones as well 
as his brain that things are moving faster in the world 
around him— makes an automatic, unconscious com- 
pensation for the compression of time. Anticipating 

44 The Death of Permanence 

that situations will endure less long, he is less fre- 
quently caught off guard and jolted than the person 
whose durational expectancies are frozen, the person 
who does not routinely anticipate a frequent shorten- 
ing in the duration of situations. 

In short, the pace of life must be regarded as some- 
thing more than a colloquial phrase, a source of 
jokes, sighs, complaints or ethnic put-downs. It is 
a crucially important psychological variable that has 
been all but ignored. During past eras, when change 
in the outer society was slow, men could, and did, 
remain unaware of this variable. Throughout one’s 
entire lifetime the pace might vary little. The accel- 
erative thrust, however, alters this drastically. For 
it is precisely through a step-up in the pace of life 
that the increased speed of broad scientific, techno- 
logical and social change makes itself felt in the life 
of the individual. A great deal of human behavior is 
motivated by attraction or antagonism toward the 
pace of life enforced on the individual by the society 
or group within which he is embedded. Failure to 
grasp this principle lies behind the dangerous inca- 
pacity of education and psychology to prepare people 
for fruitful roles in a super-industrial society. 


Much of our theorizing about social and psycholog- 
ical change presents a valid picture of man in rela- 
tively static societies— but a distorted and incomplete 
picture of the truly contemporary man. It misses a 
critical difference between the men of the past or 
present and the men of the future. This difference is 
summed up in the word ‘'transience.” 

The concept of transience provides a long-missing 
link between sociological theories of change and the 
psychology of individual human beings. Integrating 
both, it permits us to analyze the problems of high- 
speed change in a new way. And, as we shall see, it 

The Pace of Life 45 

gives us a method— crude but powerful— to measure 
inferentially the rate of situation flow. 

Transience is the new “temporariness” in everyday 
life. It results in a mood, a feeling of impermanence. 
Philosophers and theologians, of course, have always 
been aware that man is ephemeral. In this grand 
sense, transience has always been a part of life. But 
today the feeling of impermanence is more acute and 
intimate. Thus Edward Albee’s character, Jerry, in 
The Zoo Story, characterizes himself as a “permanent 
transient.” And critic Harold Clurman, commenting 
on Albee, writes: “None of us occupy abodes of safety 
—true homes. We are all the same ‘people in all the 
rooming houses everywhere,’ desperately and savagely 
trying to effect soul-satisfying connections with our 
neighbors.” We are, in fact, all citizens of the Age of 

It is, however, not only our relationships with peo- 
ple that seem increasingly fragile or impermanent. If 
we divide up man’s experience of the world outside 
himself, we can identify certain classes of relation- 
ships. Thus, in addition to his links with other people, 
we may speak of the individual’s relationship with 
things. We can single out for examination his relation- 
ships with places. We can analyze his ties to the in- 
stitutional or organizational environment around him. 
We can even study his relationship to certain ideas or 
to the information flow in society. 

These five relationships— plus time— form the fabric 
of social experience. This is why, as suggested earlier, 
things, places, people, organizations and ideas are the 
basic components of all situations. It is the individual’s 
distinctive relationship to each of these components 
that structures the situation. 

And it is precisely these relationships that, as accel- 
eration occurs in society, become foreshortened, tele- 
scoped in time. Relationships that once endured for 
long spans of time now have shorter life expectancies. 
It is this abbreviation, this compression, that gives rise 


The Death of Permanence 

to the almost tangible feeling that we live, rootless 
and uncertain, among shifting dunes. 

Transience, indeed, can be defined quite specifically 
in terms of the rate at which our relationships turn 
over. While it may be difficult to prove that situations, 
as such, take less time to pass through our experience 
than before, it is possible to break them down into 
their components, and to measure the rate at which 
these components move into and out of our fives— to 
measure, in other words, the duration of relationships. 

It will help us understand the concept of transience 
if we think in terms of the idea of “turnover.” In a 
grocery store, for example, milk turns over more rapid- 
ly than, say, canned asparagus. It is sold and replaced 
more rapidly. The “through-put” is faster. The alert 
businessman knows the turnover rate for each of the 
items he sells, and the general rate for the entire store. 
He knows, in fact, that his turnover rate is a key indi- 
cator of the health of the enterprise. 

We can, by analogy, think of transience as the rate 
of turnover of the different kinds of relationships in an 
individual’s fife. Moreover, each of us can be charac- 
terized in terms of this rate. For some, fife is marked 
by a much slower rate of turnover than for others. The 
people of the past and present lead lives of relatively 
“low transience”— their relationships tend to be long- 
lasting. But the people of the future five in a condition 
of “high transience”— a condition in which the dura- 
tion of relationships is cut short, the through-put of 
relationships extremely rapid. In their fives, things, 
places, people, ideas, and organizational structures 
all get “used up” more quickly. 

This affects immensely the way they experience 
reality, their sense of commitment, and their ability— 
or inability— to cope. It is this fast through-put, com- 
bined with increasing newness and complexity in the 
environment, that strains the capacity to adapt and 
creates the danger of future shock. 

If we can show that our relationships with the outer 
world are, in fact, growing more and more transient, 


The Pace of Life 

we have powerful evidence for the assumption that 
the flow of situations is speeding up. And we have an 
incisive new way of looking at ourselves and others. 
Let us, therefore, explore life in a high transience 


Chapter 4 



“Barbie,” a twelve-inch plastic teen-ager, is the best- 
known and best-selling doll in history. Since its intro- 
duction in 1959, the Barbie doll population of the 
world has grown to 12,000,000— more than the human 
population of Los Angeles or London or Paris. Little 
girls adore Barbie because she is highly realistic and 
eminently dress-upable. Mattel, Inc., makers of Barbie, 
also sells a complete wardrobe for her, including 
clothes for ordinary daytime wear, clothes for formal 
party wear, clothes for swimming and skiing. 

Recently Mattel announced a new improved Barbie 
doll. The new version has a slimmer figure, “real” 
eyelashes, and a twist-and-turn waist that makes her 
more humanoid than ever. Moreover, Mattel an- 
nounced that, for the first time, any young lady wish- 
ing to purchase a new Barbie would receive a trade-in 
allowance for her old one. 

What Mattel did not announce was that by trading 
in her old doll for a technologically improved model, 
the little girl of today, citizen of tomorrow’s super- 
industrial world, would leam a fundamental lesson 
about the new society: that man’s relationships with 
things are increasingly temporary. 

The ocean of man-made physical objects that sur- 
rounds us is set within a larger ocean of natural 



objects. But increasingly, it is the technologically pro- 
duced environment that matters for the individual. 
The texture of plastic or concrete, the iridescent 
glisten of an automobile under a streetlight, the stag- 
gering vision of a cityscape seen from the window of 
a jet— these are the intimate realities of his existence. 
Man-made things enter into and color his conscious- 
ness. Their number is expanding with explosive force, 
both absolutely and relative to the natural environ- 
ment. This will be even more true in super-industrial 
society than it is today. 

Anti-materialists tend to deride the importance of 
“things.” Yet things are highly significant, not merely 
because of their functional utility, but also because of 
their psychological impact. We develop relationships 
with things. Things affect our sense of continuity or 
discontinuity. They play a role in the structure of 
situations and the foreshortening of our relationships 
with things accelerates the pace of life. 

Moreover, our attitudes toward things reflect basic 
value judgments. Nothing could be more dramatic 
than the difference between the new breed of little 
girls who cheerfully turn in their Barbies for the new 
improved model and those who, like their mothers and 
grandmothers before them, clutch lingeringly and 
lovingly to the same doll until it disintegrates from 
sheer age. In this difference lies the contrast between 
past and future, between societies based on perma- 
nence, and the new, fast-forming society based on 


That man-thing relationships are growing more and 
more temporary may be illustrated by examining the 
culture surrounding the little girl who trades in her 
doll. This child soon learns that Barbie dolls are by no 
means the only physical objects that pass into and 
out of her young life at a rapid clip. Diapers, bibs, 


Things: The Throw-away Society 

paper napkins, Kleenex, towels, non-returnable soda 
bottles— all are used up quickly in her home and 
ruthlessly eliminated. Corn muffins come in baking 
tins that are thrown away after one use. Spinach is 
encased in plastic sacks that can be dropped into a 
pan of boiling water for heating, and then thrown 
away. TV dinners are cooked and often served on 
throw-away trays. Her home is a large processing 
machine through which objects flow, entering and 
leaving, at a faster and faster rate of speed. From birth 
on, she is inextricably embedded in a throw-away 

The idea of using a product once or for a brief 
period and then replacing it, runs counter to the grain 
of societies or individuals steeped in a heritage of 
poverty. Not long ago Uriel Rone, a market researcher 
for the French advertising agency Publicis, told me: 
“The French housewife is not used to disposable 
products. She likes to keep things, even old things, 
rather than throw them away. We represented one 
company that wanted to introduce a kind of plastic 
throw-away curtain. We did a marketing study for 
them and found the resistance too strong.” This re- 
sistance, however, is dying all over the developed 

Thus a writer, Edward Maze, has pointed out that 
many Americans visiting Sweden in the early 1950’s 
were astounded by its cleanliness. “We were almost 
awed by the fact that there were no beer and soft 
drink bottles by the roadsides, as, much to our shame, 
there were in America. But by the 1960’s, lo and be- 
hold, bottles were suddenly blooming along Swedish 
highways . . . What happened? Sweden had become 
a buy, use and throw-away society, following the 
American pattern.” In Japan today throw-away tissues 
are so universal that cloth handkerchiefs are regarded 
as old fashioned, not to say unsanitary. In England 
for sixpence one may buy a “Dentamatic throw-away 
toothbrush” which comes already coated with tooth- 
paste for its one-time use. And even in France, dis- 



posable cigarette lighters are commonplace. From 
cardboard milk containers to the rockets that power 
space vehicles, products created for short-term or one- 
time use are becoming more numerous and crucial to 
our way of life. 

The recent introduction of paper and quasi-paper 
clothing carried the trend toward disposability a step 
further. Fashionable boutiques and working-class 
clothing stores have sprouted whole departments de- 
voted to gaily colored and imaginatively designed 
paper apparel. Fashion magazines display breathtak- 
ingly sumptuous gowns, coats, pajamas, even wedding 
dresses made of paper. The bride pictured in one of 
these wears a long white train of lace-like paper that, 
the caption writer notes, will make “great kitchen 
curtains” after the ceremony. 

Paper clothes are particularly suitable for children. 
Writes one fashion expert: “Little girls will soon be 
able to spill ice cream, draw pictures and make 
cutouts on their clothes while their mothers smile 
benignly at their creativity.” And for adults who want 
to express their own creativity, there is even a “paint- 
yourself-dress” complete with brushes. Price: $2.00. 

Price, of course, is a critical factor behind the paper 
explosion. Thus a department store features simple 
A-line dresses made of what it calls “devil-may-care 
cellulose fiber and nylon.” At $1.29 each, it is almost 
cheaper for the consumer to buy and discard a new 
one than to send an ordinary dress to the cleaners. 
Soon it will be. But more than economics is involved, 
for the extension of the throw-away culture has im- 
portant psychological consequences. 

We develop a throw-away mentality to match our 
throw-away products. This mentality produces, among 
other things, a set of radically altered values with 
respect to property. But the spread of disposability 
through the society also implies decreased durations 
in man-thing relationships. Instead of being linked 
with a single object over a relatively long span of time, 

Things: The Throw-away Society 55 

we are linked for brief periods with the succession of 
objects that supplant it. 


The shift toward transience is even manifest in archi- 
tecture— precisely that part of the physical environ- 
ment that in the past contributed mostly heavily to 
man’s sense of permanence. The child who trades in 
her Barbie doll cannot but also recognize the tran- 
sience of buildings and other large structures that 
surround her. We raze landmarks. We tear down 
whole streets and cities and put new ones up at a 
mind-numbing rate. 

“The average age of dwellings has steadily de- 
clined,” writes E. F. Carter of the Stanford Research 
Institute, “from being virtually infinite in the days of 
caves to . . . approximately a hundred years for houses 
built in United States colonial days, to about forty 
years at present.” And Michael Wood, an English 
writer comments: The American “. . . made his world 
yesterday, and he knows exactly how fragile, how 
shifting it is. Buildings in New York literally disappear 
overnight, and the face of a city can change com- 
pletely in a year.” 

Novelist Louis Auchincloss complains angrily that 
“The horror of living in New York is living in a city 
without a history . . . All eight of my great-grand- 
parents lived in the city . . . and only one of the 
houses they lived in ... is still standing. That’s what 
I mean by the vanishing past.” Less patrician New 
Yorkers, whose ancestors landed in America more 
recently, arriving there from the barrios of Puerto 
Rico, the villages of Eastern Europe or the plantations 
of the South, might voice their feelings quite differ- 
ently. Yet the “vanishing past” is a real phenomenon, 
and it is likely to become far more widespread, en- 
gulfing even many of the history-drenched cities of 



Buckminster Fuller, the designer-philosopher, once 
described New York as a “continual evolutionary proc- 
ess of evacuations, demolitions, removals, temporarily 
vacant lots, new installations and repeat. This process 
is identical in principle to the annual rotation of crops 
in farm acreage— plowing, planting the new seed, 
harvesting, plowing under, and putting in another 
type of crop . . . Most people look upon the building 
operations blocking New York’s streets ... as tempo- 
rary annoyances, soon to disappear in a static peace. 
They still think of permanence as normal, a hangover 
from the Newtonian view of the universe. But those 
who have lived in and with New York since the be- 
ginning of the century have literally experienced liv- 
ing with Einsteinian relativity.” 

That children, in fact, internalize this “Einsteinian 
relativity” was brought home to me forcibly by a 
personal experience. Some time ago my wife sent my 
daughter, then twelve, to a supermarket a few blocks 
from our Manhattan apartment. Our little girl had 
been there only once or twice before. Half an hour 
later she returned perplexed. “It must have been tom 
down,” she said, “I couldn’t find it.” It hadn’t been. 
New to the neighborhood, Karen had merely looked 
on the wrong block. But she is a child of the Age of 
Transience, and her immediate assumption— that the 
building had been razed and replaced— was a natural 
one for a twelve-year-old growing up in the United 
States at this time. Such an idea would probably 
never have occurred to a child faced with a similar 
predicament even half a century ago. The physical 
environment was far more durable, our links with it 
less transient. 


In the past, permanence was the ideal. Whether en- 
gaged in handcrafting a pair of boots or in construct- 
ing a cathedral, all man’s creative and productive 


Things: The Throw-away Society 

energies went toward maximizing the durability of the 
product. Man built to last. He had to. As long as 
the society around him was relatively unchanging each 
object had clearly defined functions, and economic 
logic dictated the policy of permanence. Even if they 
had to be repaired now and then, the boots that cost 
fifty dollars and lasted ten years were less expensive 
than those that cost ten dollars and lasted only a year. 

As the general rate of change in society accelerates, 
however, the economics of permanence are— and must 
be— replaced by the economics of transience. 

First, advancing technology tends to lower the costs 
of manufacture much more rapidly than the costs of 
repair work. The one is automated, the other remains 
largely a handcraft operation. This means that it often 
becomes cheaper to replace than to repair. It is eco- 
nomically sensible to build cheap, unrepairable, throw- 
away objects, even though they may not last as long 
as repairable objects. 

Second, advancing technology makes it possible to 
improve the object as time goes by. The second- 
generation computer is better than the first, and the 
third is better than the second. Since we can anticipate 
further technological advance, more improvements 
coming at ever shorter intervals, it often makes hard 
economic sense to build for the short term rather than 
the long. David Lewis, an architect and city planner 
with Urban Design Associates in Pittsburgh, tells of 
certain apartment houses in Miami that are tom 
down after only ten years of existence. Improved air 
conditioning systems in newer buildings hurt the 
rentability of these “old” buildings. All things con- 
sidered, it becomes cheaper to tear down the ten-year- 
old buildings than to modify them. 

Third, as change accelerates and reaches into more 
and more remote comers of the society, uncertainty 
about future needs increases. Recognizing the inevita- 
bility of change, but unsure as to the demands it will 
impose on us, we hesitate to commit large resources 
for rigidly fixed objects intended to serve unchanging 



purposes. Avoiding commitment to fixed forms and 
functions, we build for short-term use or, alternatively, 
attempt to make the product itself adaptable. We 
“play it cool” technologically. 

The rise of disposability— the spread of the throw- 
away culture— is a response to these powerful pres- 
sures. As change accelerates and complexities multi- 
ply, we can expect to see further extensions of the 
principle of disposability, further curtailment of man’s 
relationships with things. 


There are other responses besides disposability that 
also lead to the same psychological effect. For ex- 
ample, we are now witnessing the wholesale creation 
of objects designed to serve a series of short-term 
purposes instead of a single one. These are not throw- 
away items. They are usually too big and expensive to 
discard. But they are so constructed that they may be 
dismantled, if necessary, and relocated after each use. 

Thus the board of education of Los Angeles has 
decided that fully 25 percent of that city’s classrooms 
will, in the future, be temporary structures that can be 
moved around as needed. Every major United States 
school district today uses some temporary classrooms. 
More are on the way. Indeed, temporary classrooms 
are to the school construction industry what paper 
dresses are to the clothing industry— a foretaste of the 

The purpose of temporary classrooms is to help 
school systems cope with rapidly shifting population 
densities. But temporary classrooms, like disposable 
clothes, imply man-thing relationships of shorter dura- 
tion than in the past. Thus the temporary classroom 
teaches something even in the absence of a teacher. 
Like the Barbie doll, it provides the child with a vivid 
lesson in the impermanence of her surroundings. No 
sooner does the child internalize a thorough knowledge 


Things: The Throw-away Society 

of the classroom— the way it fits into the surrounding 
architecture, the way the desks feel on a hot day, the 
way sound reverberates in it, all the subtle smells and 
textures that individualize any structure and lend it 
reality— than the structure itself may be physically 
removed from her environment to serve other children 
in another place. 

Nor are mobile classrooms a purely American phe- 
nomenon. In England, architect Cedric Price has de- 
signed what he calls a “thinkbelt”— an entirely mobile 
university intended to serve 20,000 students in North 
Staffordshire. “It will,” he says, “rely on temporary 
buildings rather than permanent ones.” It will make 
“great use of mobile and variable physical enclosures” 
—classrooms, for example, built inside railroad cars so 
that they may be shunted anywhere along the four- 
mile campus. 

Geodesic domes to house expositions, air-inflated 
plastic bubbles for use as command posts or construc- 
tion headquarters, a whole array of pick-up-and-move 
temporary structures are flowing from the drawing 
boards of engineers and architects. In New York City, 
the Department of Parks has decided to build twelve 
“portable playgrounds”— small, temporary playgrounds 
to be installed on vacant city lots until other uses are 
found for the land, at which time the playgrounds can 
be dismounted and moved elsewhere. There was a 
time when a playground was a reasonably permanent 
fixture in a neighborhood, when one’s children and 
even, perhaps, one’s children’s children might, each in 
their turn, experience it in roughly the same way. 
Super-industrial playgrounds, however, refuse to stay 
put. They are temporary by design. 


The reduction in the duration of man-thing relation- 
ships brought about by the proliferation of throw-away 
items and temporary structures is further intensified 



by the rapid spread of “modularism.” Modularism may 
be defined as the attempt to lend whole structures 
greater permanence at the cost of making their 
sub-structures less permanent. Thus Cedric Price’s 
“thinkbelt” plan proposes that faculty and student 
apartments consist of pressed-steel modules that can 
be hoisted by crane and plugged into building frames. 
The frames become the only relatively permanent 
parts of the structure. The apartment modules can be 
shifted around as needed, or even, in theory, com- 
pletely discarded and replaced. 

It needs to be emphasized here that the distinction 
between disposability and mobility is, from the point 
of view of the duration of relationships, a thin one. 
Even when modules are not discarded, but merely 
rearranged, the result is a new configuration, a new 
entity. It is as if one physical structure had, in reality, 
been discarded and a new one created, even though 
some or all of the components remain the same. 

Even many supposedly “permanent” buildings today 
are constructed on a modular plan so that interior 
walls and partitions may be shifted at will to form 
new enclosure patterns inside. The mobile partition, 
indeed, might well serve as a symbol of the transient 
society. One scarcely ever enters a large office today 
without tripping over a crew of workers busily moving 
desks and rearranging interior space by reorganizing 
the partitions. In Sweden a new triumph of modular- 
ism has recently been achieved: in a model apartment 
house in Uppsala all walls and closets are movable. 
The tenant needs only a screwdriver to transform his 
living space completely, to create, in effect, a new 

Sometimes, however, modularity is directly com- 
bined with disposability. The simple, ubiquitous ball- 
point pen provides an example. The original goose- 
quill pen had a long life expectancy. Barring accident, 
it lasted a long time and could be resharpened (i.e., 
repaired) from time to time to extend its life. The 
fountain pen, however, was a great technological ad- 

Things: The Throw-away Society 61 

vance because it gave the user mobility. It provided a 
writing tool that carried its own inkwell, thus vastly 
increasing its range of usefulness. The invention of 
the ball point consolidated and extended this advance. 
It provided a pen that carried its own ink supply, but 
that, in addition, was so cheap it could be thrown 
away when empty. The first truly disposable pen-and- 
ink combination had been created. 

We have, however, not yet outgrown the psycho- 
logical attitudes that accompany scarcity. Thus there 
are still many people today who feel a twinge of 
guilt at discarding even a spent bail-point pen. The 
response of the pen industry to this psychological 
reality was the creation of a ball-point pen built on 
the modular principle— an outer frame that the user 
could keep, and an inner ink module or cartridge that 
he could throw away and replace. By making the ink 
cartridge expendable, the whole structure is given 
extended life at the expense of the sub-structure. 

There are, however, more parts than wholes. And 
whether he is shifting them around to create new 
wholes or discarding and replacing them, the user ex- 
periences a more rapid through-put of things through 
his life, a generalized decline in the average duration 
of his relationship with things. The result is a new 
fluidity, mobility and transience. 

One of the most extreme examples of architecture 
designed to embody these principles was the plan put 
forward by the English theatrical producer Joan 
Little wood with the help of Frank Newby, a structural 
engineer, Gordon Pask, a systems consultant, and 
Cedric Price, the “thinkbelt” architect. 

Miss Littlewood wanted a theater in which versa- 
tility might be maximized, in which she might present 
anything from an ordinary play to a political rally, 
from a performance of dance to a wrestling match— 
preferably all at the same time. She wanted, as the 
critic Reyner Banham has put it, a “zone of total 
probability.” The result was a fantastic plan for “The 
Fun Palace,” otherwise known as the “First Giant 



Space Mobile in the World.” The plan calls not for a 
multi-purpose building, but for what is, in effect, a 
larger than life-sized Erector Set, a collection of modu- 
lar parts that can be hung together in an almost 
infinite variety of ways. More or less “permanent” 
vertical towers house various services— such as toilets 
and electronic control emits— and are topped by gantry 
cranes that lift the modules into position and assemble 
them to form any temporary configuration desired. 
After an evening’s entertainment, the cranes come out, 
disassemble the auditoria, exhibition halls and restau- 
rants, and store them away. 

Here is the way Reyner Banham describes it: “ . . 
the Fun Palace is a piece of ten-y ear-expendable 
urban equipment . . . Day by day this giant neo- 
Futurist machine will stir and reshuffle its movable 
parts— walls and floors, ramps and walks, steerable 
escalators, seating and roofing, stages and movie 
screens, lighting and sound systems— sometimes with 
only a small part walled in, but with the public poking 
about the exposed walks and stairs, pressing buttons 
to make things happen themselves. 

“This, when it happens (and it is on the cards that 
it will, somewhere, soon ) will be indeterminacy raised 
to a new power: no permanent monumental interior 
space or heroic silhouette against the sky will survive 
for posterity . . . For the only permanently visible 
elements of the Fun Palace will be the ‘life-support’ 
structure on which the transient architecture will be 

Proponents of what has become known as “plug-in” 
or “clip-on” architecture have designed whole cities 
based on the idea of “transient architecture.” Extend- 
ing the concepts on which the Fun Palace plan is 
based, they propose the construction of different types 
of modules which would be assigned different life ex- 
pectancies. Thus the core of a “building” might be 
engineered to last twenty-five years, while the plug-in 
room modules are built to last only three years. Letting 
their imaginations roam still further, they have con- 


Things: The Throw-away Society 

jured up mobile skyscrapers that rest not on fixed 
foundations but on gigantic “ground effect” machines 
or hovercraft. The ultimate is an entire urban agglom- 
eration freed of fixed position, floating on a cushion 
of air, powered by nuclear energy, and changing its 
inner shape even more rapidly than New York does 

Whether or not precisely these visions become real- 
ity, the fact is that society is moving in this direction. 
Tiie extension of the throw-away culture, the creation 
of more and more temporary structures, the spread of 
modularism are proceeding apace, and they all con- 
spire toward the same psychological end: the ephem- 
eralization of man’s links with the things that surround 


Still another development is drastically altering the 
man-thing nexus: the rental revolution. The spread of 
rentalism, a characteristic of societies rocketing toward 
super-industrialism, is intimately connected with all 
the tendencies described above. The link between 
Hertz cars, disposable diapers, and Joan Littlewood’s 
“Fun Palace,” may seem obscure at first glance, but 
closer inspection reveals strong inner similarities. For 
rentalism, too, intensifies transience. 

During the depression, when millions were jobless 
and homeless, the yearning for a home of one’s own 
was one of the most powerful economic motivations 
in capitalist societies. In the United States today the 
desire for home ownership is still strong, but ever 
since the end of World War II the percentage of new 
housing devoted to rental apartments has been soar- 
ing. As late as 1955 apartments accounted for only 8 
percent of new housing starts. By 1961 it reached 24 
percent. By 1969, for the first time in the United 
States, more building permits were being issued for 
apartment construction than for private homes. Apart- 



ment living, for a variety of reasons, is “in.” It is par- 
ticularly in among young people who, in the words of 
MIT Professor Burnham Kelly, want “minimum-in- 
volvement housing.” 

Minimum involvement is precisely what the user of 
a throw-away product gets for his money. It is also 
what temporary structures and modular components 
foster. Commitments to apartments are, almost by 
definition, shorter term commitments than those made 
by a homeowner to his home. The trend toward resi- 
dential renting thus underscores the tendency toward 
ever-briefer relationships with the physical environ- 

More striking than this, however, has been the re- 
cent upsurge of rental activity in fields in which it was 
all but unknown in the past. David Riesman has 
written: ‘Teople are fond of their cars; they like to 
talk about them— something that comes out very clear- 
ly in interviews— but their affection for any one in 
particular rarely reaches enough intensity to become 
long-term.” This is reflected in the fact that the aver- 
age car owner in the United States keeps his automo- 
bile only three and a half years; many of the more 
affluent trade in their automobiles every year or two. 
In turn, this accounts for the existence of a twenty- 
billion-dollar used car business in the United States. 
It was the automotive industry that first succeeded in 
destroying the traditional notion that a major purchase 
had to be a permanent commitment. The annual 
model changeover, high-powered advertising, backed 
by the industry’s willingness to offer trade-in allow- 
ances, made the purchase of a new (or new used) 

* It might be noted that millions of American home “own- 
ers,” having purchased a home with a down payment of 10 
percent or less, are actually no more than surrogate owners for 
banks and other lending institutions. For these families, the 
monthly check to the bank is no different from the rent check 
to the landlord. Their ownership is essentially metaphorical, 
and since they lack a strong financial stake in their property, 
they also frequently lack the homeowner’s strong psychological 
commitment to it. 

Things: The Throw-away Society 65 

car a relatively frequent occurrence in the life of the 
average American male. In effect, it shortened the 
interval between purchases, thereby shortening the du- 
ration of the relationship between an owner and any 
one vehicle. 

In recent years, however, a spectacular new force 
has emerged to challenge many of the most deeply 
ingrained patterns of the automotive industry. This 
is the auto rental business. Today in the United States 
millions of motorists rent automobiles from time to 
time for periods of a few hours up to several months. 
Many big-city dwellers, especially in New York where 
parking is a nightmare, refuse to own a car, preferring 
to rent one for weekend trips to the country, or even 
for in-town trips that are inconvenient by public 
transit. Autos today can be rented with a minimum 
of red tape at almost any US airport, railroad station 
or hotel. 

Moreover, Americans have carried the rental habit 
abroad with them. Nearly half a million of them rent 
cars while overseas each year. This figure is expected 
to rise to nearly a million by 1975, and the big Amer- 
ican rental companies, operating now in some fifty 
countries around the globe, are beginning to run into 
foreign competitors. Simultaneously, European motor- 
ists are beginning to emulate the Americans. A cartoon 
in Taris Match shows a creature from outer space 
standing next to his flying saucer and asking a 
gendarme where he can rent an auto. The idea is 
catching on. 

The rise of auto rentals, meanwhile, has been 
paralleled by the emergence in the United States of a 
new kind of general store— one which sells nothing 
but rents everything. There are now some 9000 such 
stores in the United States with an annual rental 
volume on the order of one billion dollars and a growth 
rate of from 10 to 20 percent per year. Virtually 50 
percent of these stores were not in business five years 
ago. Today, there is scarcely a product that cannot be 



rented, from ladders and lawn equipment to mink 
coats and originals Rouaults. 

In Los Angeles, rental firms provide live shrubs 
and trees for real estate developers who wish to 
landscape model homes temporarily. “Plants enhance 
—rent living plants,” says the sign on the side of a 
truck in San Francisco. In Philadelphia one may rent 
shirts. Elsewhere, Americans now rent everything from 
gowns, crutches, jewels, TV sets, camping equipment, 
air conditioners, wheelchairs, linens, skis, tape re- 
corders, champagne fountains, and silverware. A West 
Coast men’s club rented a human skeleton for a 
demonstration, and an ad in the Wall Street Journal 
even urges: “Rent-a-Cow.” 

Not long ago the Swedish women’s magazine Svensk 
Damtidning ran a five-part series about the world of 
1985. Among other things, it suggested that by then 
“we will sleep in built-in sleeping furniture with 
buttons for when we eat breakfast or read, or else we 
will rent a bed at the same place that we rent the 
table and the paintings and the washing machine.” 

Impatient Americans are not waiting for 1985. In- 
deed, one of the most significant aspects of the boom- 
ing rental business is the rise of furniture rental. Some 
manufacturers and many rental firms will now furnish 
entire small apartments for as little as twenty to fifty 
dollars per month, down to the drapes, rugs and ash- 
trays. “You arrive in town in the morning,” says one 
airline stewardess, “and by evening you’ve got a 
swinging pad.” Says a Canadian transferred to New 
York: “It’s new, it’s colorful, and I don’t have to worry 
about carting it all over the world when I’m trans- 

William James once wrote that ‘lives based on hav- 
ing are less free than lives based either on doing or 
on being.” The rise of rentalism is a move away from 
lives based on having and it reflects the increase in 
doing and being. If the people of the future live 
faster than the people of the past, they must also be 
far more flexible. They are like broken field runners— 


Things: The Throw-away Society 

and it is hard to sidestep a tackle when loaded down 
with possessions. They want the advantage of affluence 
and the latest that technology has to offer, but not the 
responsibility that has, until now, accompanied the ac- 
cumulation of possessions. They recognize that to 
survive among the uncertainties of rapid change they 
must learn to travel light. 

Whatever its broader effects, however, rentalism 
shortens still further the duration of the relationships 
between man and the things that he uses. This is made 
clear by asking a simple question: How many cars— 
rented, borrowed or owned— pass through the hands 
of the average American male in a lifetime? The 
answer for car owners might be in the range of twenty 
to fifty. For active car renters, however, the figure 
might run as high as 200 or more. While the buyer’s 
average relationship with a particular vehicle extends 
over many months or years, the renter’s average link 
with any one particular car is extremely short-lived. 

Renting has the net effect of multiplying the num- 
ber of people with successive relationships to the same 
object, and thus reducing, on average, the duration of 
such relationships. When we extend this principle to 
a very wide range of products, it becomes clear that 
the rise of rentalism parallels and reinforces the im- 
pact of throw-away items, temporary structures and 


It is important here to turn for a moment to the notion 
of obsolescence. For the fear of product obsolescence 
drives businessmen to innovation at the same time 
that it impels the consumer toward rented, disposable 
or temporary products. The very idea of obsolescence 
is disturbing to people bred on the ideal of perma- 
nence, and it is particularly upsetting when thought 
to be planned. Planned obsolescence has been the 
target of so much recent social criticism that the un- 



wary reader might be led to regard it as the primary 
or even -exclusive cause of the trend toward shorter 
relational durations. 

There is no doubt that some businessmen conspire 
to shorten the useful life of their products in order to 
guarantee replacement sales. There is, similarly, no 
doubt that many of the annual model changes with 
which American (and other) consumers are increas- 
ingly familiar are not technologically substantive. De- 
troit’s autos today deliver no more mileage per gallon 
of gasoline than they did ten model changes back, 
and the oil companies, for all the additives about 
which they boast, still put a turtle, not a tiger, in the 
tank. Moreover, it is incontestable that Madison 
Avenue frequently exaggerates the importance of new 
features and encourages consumers to dispose of par- 
tially worn-out goods to make way for the new. 

It is therefore true that the consumer is sometimes 
caught in a carefully engineered trap— an old product 
whose death has been deliberately hastened by its 
manufacturer, and the simultaneous appearance of a 
“new improved” model advertised as the latest heaven- 
sent triumph of advanced technology. 

Nevertheless, these reasons by themselves cannot 
begin to account for the fantastic rate of turnover of 
the products in our lives. Rapid obsolescence is an 
integral part of the entire accelerative process— a 
process involving not merely the life span of spark- 
plugs, but of whole societies. Bound up with the rise 
of science and the speed-up in the acquisition of 
knowledge, this historic process can hardly be attrib- 
uted to the evil design of a few contemporary huck- 

Clearly, obsolescence occurs with or without “plan- 
ning.” With respect to things, obsolescence occurs 
under three conditions. It occurs when a product 
literally deteriorates to the point at which it can no 
longer fulfill its functions— bearings bum out, fabrics 
tear, pipes rust. Assuming the same functions still need 
to be performed for the consumer, the failure of a 


Things: The Throw-away Society 

product to perform these functions marks the point 
at which its replacement is required. This is obso- 
lescence due to functional failure. 

Obsolescence also occurs when some new product 
arrives on the scene to perform these functions more 
effectively than the old product could. The new anti- 
biotics do a more effective job of curing infection than 
the old. The new computers are infinitely faster and 
cheaper to operate than the antique models of the 
early 1960’s. This is obsolescence due to substantive 
technological advance. 

But obsolescence also occurs when the needs of the 
consumer change, when the functions to be performed 
by the product are themselves altered. These needs 
are not as simply described as the critics of planned 
obsolescence sometimes assume. An object, whether 
a car or a can opener, may be evaluated along many 
different parameters. A car, for example, is more than 
a conveyance. It is an expression of the personality of 
the user, a symbol of status, a source of that pleasure 
associated with speed, a source of a wide variety of 
sensory stimuli— tactile, olfactory, visual, etc. The 
satisfaction a consumer gains from such factors may, 
depending upon his values, outweigh the satisfaction 
he might receive from improved gas consumption or 
pickup power. 

The traditional notion that each object has a single 
easily definable function clashes with all that we now 
know about human psychology, about the role of 
values in decision-making, and with ordinary common 
sense as well. All products are multi-functional. 

An excellent illustration of this occurred not long 
ago when I watched a little boy purchase half a dozen 
pink erasers at a little stationery store. Curious as to 
why he wanted so many of them, I picked one up for 
closer examination. “Do they erase well?” I asked the 
boy. “I don’t know,” he said, “but they sure smell 
good!” Amd, indeed, they did. They had been heavily 
perfumed by the Japanese manufacturer perhaps to 
mask an unpleasant chemical odor. In short, the needs 



filled by products vary by purchaser and through 

In a society of scarcity, needs are relatively univer- 
sal and unchanging because they are starkly related 
to the “gut” functions. As affluence rises, however, 
human needs become less directly linked to biological 
survival and more highly individuated. Moreover, in 
a society caught up in complex, high-speed change, 
the needs of the individual— which arise out of his 
interaction with the external environment— also change 
at relatively high speed. The more rapidly changing 
the society, the more temporary the needs. Given the 
general affluence of the new society, he can indulge 
many of these short-term needs. 

Often, without even having a clear idea of what 
needs he wants served, the consumer has a vague feel- 
ing that he wants a change. Advertising encourages 
and capitalizes on this feeling, but it can hardly be 
credited with having created it single-handedly. The 
tendency toward shorter relational durations is thus 
built more deeply into the social structure than argu- 
ments over planned obsolescence or the manipulative 
effectiveness of Madison Avenue would suggest. 

The rapidity with which consumers’ needs shift is 
reflected in the alacrity with which buyers abandon 
product and brand loyalty. If Assistant Attorney Gen- 
eral Donald F. Turner, a leading critic of advertising, 
is correct, one of the primary purposes of advertising 
is to create “durable preferences.” If so, it is failing, 
for brand-switching is so frequent and common that 
it has become, in the words of one food industry 
publication, “one of the national advertiser’s major 

Many brands drop out of existence. Among brands 
that continue to exist there is a continual reshuffling of 
position. According to Henry M. Schachte, “In almost 
no major consumer goods category ... is there a brand 
on top today which held that position ten years ago.” 
Thus among ten leading American cigarettes, only 
one, Pall Mall, maintained in 1966 the same share of 

Things: The Throw-away Society 71 

the market that it held in 1956. Camels plunged from 
18 to 9 percent of the market; Lucky Strike declined 
even more sharply, from 14 to 6 percent. Other brands 
moved up, with Salem, for example, rising from 1 to 
9 percent. Additional fluctuations have occurred since 
this survey. 

However insignificant these shifts may be from the 
long-run view of the historian, this continual shuffling 
and reshuffling, influenced but not independently 
controlled by advertising, introduces into the short-run, 
everyday life of the individual a dazzling dynamism. 
It heightens still further the sense of speed, turmoil 
and impermanence in society. 


Fast-shifting preferences, flowing out of and interact- 
ing with high-speed technological change, not only 
lead to frequent changes in the popularity of products 
and brands, but also shorten the life cycle of products. 
Automation expert John Diebold never wearies of 
pointing out to businessmen that they must begin to 
think in terms of shorter life spans for their goods. 
Smith Brothers’ Cough Drops, Calumet Baking Soda 
and Ivory Soap, have become American institutions 
by virtue of their long reign in the market place. In 
the days ahead, he suggests, few products will enjoy 
such longevity. Every consumer has had the experi- 
ence of going to the supermarket or department store 
to replace some item, only to find that he cannot 
locate the same brand or product. In 1966 some 7000 
new products turned up in American supermarkets. 
Fully 55 percent of all the items now sold there did 
not exist ten years ago. And of the products available 
then, 42 percent have faded away altogether. Each 
year the process repeats itself in more extreme form. 
Thus 1968 saw 9,500 new items in the consumer 
packaged-goods field alone, with only one in five 
meeting its sales target. A silent but rapid attrition 



kills off the old, and new products sweep in like a tide. 

“Products that used to sell for twenty-five years,” 
writes economist Robert Theobald, “now often count 
on no more than five. In the volatile pharmaceutical 
and electronic fields the period is often as short as six 
months.” As the pace of change accelerates further, 
corporations may create new products knowing full 
well that they will remain on the market for only a 
matter of a few weeks. 

Here, too, the present already provides us with a 
foretaste of the future. It lies in an unexpected quarter: 
the fads now sweeping over the high technology 
societies in wave after wave. In the past few years 
alone, in the United States, Western Europe and 
Japan, we have witnessed the sudden rise or collapse 
in popularity of “Bardot hairdos,” the “Cleopatra look,” 
James Bond, and Batman, not to speak of Tiffany 
lampshades, Super-Balls, iron crosses, pop sunglasses, 
badges and buttons with protest slogans or porno- 
graphic jokes, posters of Allen Ginsberg or Humphrey 
Bogart, false eyelashes, and innumerable other gim- 
cracks and oddities that reflect— are timed into— the 
rapidly changing pop culture. 

Backed by mass media promotion and sophisticated 
marketing, such fads now explode on the scene virtu- 
ally overnight— and vanish just as quickly. Sophisti- 
cates in the fad business prepare in advance for shorter 
and shorter product life cycles. Thus, there is in San 
Gabriel, California, a company entitled, with a kind 
of comball relish, Wham-O Manufacturing Company. 
Wham-O specializes in fad products, having intro- 
duced the hula hoop in the fifties and the so-called Su- 
per-Ball more recently. The latter— a high-bouncing 
rubber ball— quickly became so popular with adults as 
well as children that astonished visitors saw several of 
them bouncing merrily on the floor of the Pacific Coast 
Stock Exchange. Wall Street executives gave them 
away to friends and one high broadcasting official 
complained that “All our executives are out in the 
halls with their Super-Balls.” Wham-O, and other 


Things: The Throw-away Society 

companies like it, however, are not disconcerted when 
sudden death overtakes their product; they anticipate 
it. They are specialists in the design and manufacture 
of “temporary” products. 

The fact that fads are generated artificially, to a 
large extent, merely underscores their significance. 
Even engineered fads are not new to history. But 
never before have they come fleeting across the con- 
sciousness in such rapid-fire profusion, and never has 
there been such smooth coordination between those 
who originate the fad, mass media eager to popularize 
it, and companies geared for its instantaneous exploi- 

A well-oiled machinery for the creation and diffu- 
sion of fads is now an entrenched part of the modem 
economy. Its methods will increasingly be adopted by 
others as they recognize the inevitability of the ever- 
shorter product cycle. The fine between “fad” and 
ordinary product will progressively blur. We are mov- 
ing swiftly into the era of the temporary product, 
made by temporary methods, to serve temporary 

The turnover of things in our lives thus grows even 
more frenetic. We face a rising flood of throw-away 
items, impermanent architecture, mobile and modular 
products, rented goods and commodities designed for 
almost instant death. From all these directions, strong 
pressures converge toward the same end: the inescap- 
able ephemeralization of the man-thing relationship. 

The foreshortening of our ties with the physical 
environment, the stepped-up turnover of things, how- 
ever, is only a small part of a much larger context. Let 
us, therefore, press ahead in our exploration of life in 
high transience society. 

Chapter 5 



Every Friday afternoon at 4:30, a tall, graying Wall 
Street executive named Bruce Robe stuffs a mass of 
papers into his black leather briefcase, takes his coat 
off the rack outside his office, and departs. The routine 
has been the same for more than three years. First, he 
rides the elevator twenty-nine floors down to street 
level. Next he strides for ten minutes through crowded 
streets to the Wall Street Heliport. There he boards a 
helicopter which deposits him, eight minutes later, at 
John F. Kennedy Airport. Transferring to a Trans- 
World Airlines jet, he settles down for supper, as the 
giant craft swings out over the Atlantic, then banks 
and heads west. One hour and ten minutes later, bar- 
ring delay, he steps briskly out of the terminal build- 
ing at the airport in Columbus, Ohio, and enters a 
waiting automobile. In thirty more minutes he reaches 
his destination: he is home. 

Four nights a week Robe lives at a hotel in Man- 
hattan. The other three he spends with his wife and 
children in Columbus, 500 miles away. Claiming the 
best of two worlds, a job in the frenetic financial 
center of America and a family life in the compara- 
tively tranquil Midwest countryside, he shuttles back 
and forth some 50,000 miles a year. 

The Robe case is unusual— but not that unusual. In 

Places: The New Nomads 


California, ranch owners fly as much as 120 miles 
every morning from their homes on the Pacific Coast 
or in the San Bernardino Valley to visit their ranches 
in the Imperial Valley, and then fly back home again 
at night. One Pennsylvania teen-ager, son of a peri- 
patetic engineer, jets regularly to an orthodontist in 
Frankfurt, Germany. A University of Chicago philoso- 
pher, Dr. Richard McKeon, commuted 1000 miles each 
way once a week for an entire semester in order to 
teach a series of classes at the New School for Social 
Research in New York. A young San Franciscoan and 
his girlfriend in Honolulu see each other every week- 
end, taking turns at crossing 2000 miles of Pacific 
Ocean. And at least one New England matron regu- 
larly swoops down on New York to visit her hair- 

Never in history has distance meant less. Never have 
man’s relationships with place been more numerous, 
fragile and temporary. Throughout the advanced tech- 
nological societies, and particularly among those I 
have characterized as “the people of the future,” 
commuting, traveling, and regularly relocating one’s 
family have become second nature. Figuratively, we 
“use up” places and dispose of them in much the same 
that we dispose of Kleenex or beer cans. We are 
witnessing a historic decline in the significance of 
place to human life. We are breeding a new race of 
nomads, and few suspect quite how massive, wide- 
spread and significant their migrations are. 

the 3,000,000-mile club 

In 1914, according to Buckminster Fuller, the typical 
American averaged about 1,640 miles per year of total 
travel, counting some 1,300 miles of just plain every- 
day walking to and fro. This meant that he traveled 
only about 340 miles per year with the aid of horse 
or mechanical means. Using this 1,640 figure as a base, 
it is possible to estimate that the average American 



of that period moved a total of 88,560 miles in his 
lifetime. 0 Today, by contrast, the average American 
car owner drives 10,000 miles per year— and he lives 
longer than his father or grandfather. “At sixty-nine 
years of age,” wrote Fuller a few years ago, "... I 
am one of a class of several million human beings 
who, in their lifetimes, have each covered 3,000,000 
miles or more”— more than thirty times the total life- 
time travel of the 1914 American. 

The aggregate figures are staggering. In 1967, for 
instance, 108,000,000 Americans took 360,000,000 trips 
involving an overnight stay more than 100 miles from 
home. These trips alone accounted for 312,000,000,000 
passenger miles. 

Even if we ignore the introduction of fleets of 
jumbo jets, trucks, cars, trains, subways and the like, 
our social investment in mobility is astonishing. Paved 
roads and streets have been added to the American 
landscape at the incredible rate of more than 200 
miles per day, every single day for at least the last 
twenty years. This adds up to 75,000 miles of new 
streets and roads every year, enough to girdle the 
globe three times. While United States population in- 
creased during this period by 38.5 percent, street and 
road mileage shot up 100 percent. Viewed another 
way, the figures are even more dramatic: passenger 
miles traveled within the United States have been 
increasing at a rate six times faster than population 
for at least twenty-five years. 

This revolutionary step-up in per capita movement 
through space is paralleled, to greater or lesser degree, 
throughout the most technological nations. Anyone 
who has watched the rush hour traffic pileup on the 
once peaceful Strandveg in Stockholm cannot help 
but be jolted by the sight. In Rotterdam and Amster- 
dam, streets built as recently as five years ago are 

• This is based on a life expectancy of 54 years. Actual life 
expectancy for white males in the United States in 1920 was 
54.1 years. 

. "Places : The New Nomads 


already horribly jammed: the number of automobiles 
has multiplied faster than anyone then thought possi- 

In addition to the increase in everyday movement 
between one’s home and various other nearby points, 
there is also a phenomenal increase in business and 
vacation travel involving overnight stays away from 
home. Nearly 1,500,000 Germans will vacation in Spain 
this summer, and hundreds of thousands more will 
populate beaches in Holland and Italy. Sweden annu- 
ally welcomes more than 1,200,000 visitors from non- 
Scandinavian nations. More than a million foreigners 
visit the United States, while roughly 4,000,000 Amer- 
icans travel overseas each year. A writer in Le Figaro 
justifiably refers to “gigantic human exchanges.” 

This busy movement of men back and forth over 
the landscape (and sometimes under it) is one of the 
identifying characteristics of super-industrial society. 
By contrast, pre-industrial nations seem congealed, 
frozen, their populations profoundly attached to a 
single place. Transportation expert Wilfred Owen talks 
about the “gap between the immobile and the mobile 
nations.” He points out that for Latin America, Africa 
and Asia to reach the same ratio of road mileage to 
area that now prevails in the European Economic 
Community, they would have to pave some 40,000,000 
miles of road. This contrast has profound economic 
consequences, but it also has subtle, largely overlooked 
cultural and psychological consequences. For mi- 
grants, travelers and nomads are not the same kind 
of people as those who stay put in one place. 


Perhaps the most psychologically significant kind of 
movement that an individual can make is geographical 
relocation of his home. This dramatic form of geo- 
graphical mobility is also strikingly evident in the 
United States and the other advanced nations. Speak- 



ing of the United States, Peter Drucker has said: “The 
largest migration in our history began during World 
War II; and it has continued ever since with undimin- 
ished momentum.” And political scientist Daniel Ela- 
zar describes the great masses of Americans who “have 
begun to move from place to place within each 
[urban] belt . . . preserving a nomadic way of life 
that is urban without being permanently attached to 
any particular city . . 

Between March 1967 and March 1968— in a single 
year— 36,600,000 Americans (not counting children 
less than one year old) changed their place of resi- 
dence. This is more than the total population of 
Cambodia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Israel, 
Mongolia, Nicaragua and Tunisia combined. It is as if 
the entire population of all these countries had sud- 
denly been relocated. And movement on this massive 
scale occurs every year in the United States. In each 
year since 1948 one out of five Americans changed his 
address, picking up his children, some household 
effects, and starting life anew at a fresh place. Even 
the great migrations of history, the Mongol hordes, 
the westward movement of Europeans in the nine- 
teenth century, seem puny by statistical comparison. 

While this high rate of geographical mobility in the 
United States is probably unmatched anywhere in the 
world (available statistics, unfortunately, are spotty), 
even in the more tradition-bound of the advanced 
countries the age-old ties between man and place are 
being shattered. Thus the New Society, a social science 
journal pub fished in London, reports that “The English 
are a more mobile race than perhaps they thought . . . 
No less than 11 percent of all the people in England 
and Wales in 1961 had lived in their present usual 
residence less than a year ... In certain parts of 
England, in fact, it appears that the migratory move- 
ments are nothing less than frenetic. In Kensington 
over 25 percent had lived in their homes less than a 
year, in Hampstead 20 percent, in Chelsea 19 percent.” 
And Anne Lapping, in another issue of the same 

Places: The New Nomads 


journal, states that “new houseowners expect to move 
house many more times than their parents. The aver- 
age life of a mortgage is eight to nine years . . This 
is only slightly different than in the United States. 

In France, a continuing housing shortage contrives 
to slow down internal mobility, but even there a study 
by demographer Guy Pourcher suggests that each year 
8 to 10 percent of all Frenchmen shift homes. In 
Sweden, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, the rate 
of domestic migration appears to be on the rise. And 
all Europe is experiencing a wave of international 
mass migration unlike anything since the disruptions 
of World War II. Economic prosperity in Northern 
Europe has created widespread labor shortages (ex- 
cept in England) and has attracted masses of unem- 
ployed agricultural workers from the Mediterranean 
and Middle Eastern countries. 

They come by the thousands from Algeria, Spain, 
Portugal, Yugoslavia and Turkey. Every Friday after- 
noon 1000 Turkish workers in Istanbul clamber aboard 
a train heading north toward the promised lands. The 
cavernous rail terminal in Munich has become a de- 
barkation point for many of them, and Munich now 
has its own Turkish-language newspaper. In Cologne, 
at the huge Ford factory, fully one-quarter of the 
workers are Turks. Other foreigners have fanned out 
through Switzerland, France, England, Denmark and 
as far north as Sweden. Not long ago, in the twelfth- 
century town of Pangboume in England, my wife and 
I were served by Spanish waiters. And in Stockholm 
we visited the Vivel, a downtown restaurant that 
has become a meeting place for transplanted Spaniards 
who hunger for flamenco music with their dinner. 
There were no Swedes present; with the exception of 
a few Algerians and ourselves, everyone spoke Span- 
ish. It was no surprise therefore to find that Swedish 
sociologists today are tom by debate over whether 
foreign worker populations should be assimilated into 
Swedish culture or encouraged to retain their own 
cultural traditions— precisely the same “melting pot” 



argument that excited American social scientists dur- 
ing the great period of open immigration in the United 


There are, however, important differences between 
the kind of people who are on the move in the United 
States and those caught up in the European migra- 
tions. In Europe most of the new mobility can be 
attributed to the continuing transition from agriculture 
to industry; from the past to the present, as it were. 
Only a small part is as yet associated with the transi- 
tion from industrialism to super-industrialism. In the 
United States, by contrast, the continuing redistribu- 
tion of population is no longer primarily caused by 
the decline of agricultural employment. It grows, in- 
stead, out of the spread of automation and the new 
way of life associated with super-industrial society, 
the way of life of the future. 

This becomes plain if we look at who is doing the 
moving in the United States. It is true that some 
technologically backward and disadvantaged groups, 
such as urban Negroes, are characterized by high rates 
of geographical mobility, usually within the same 
neighborhood or county. But these groups form only a 
relatively small slice of the total population, and it 
would be a serious mistake to assume that high rates 
of geographical mobility correlate only with poverty, 
unemployment or ignorance. In fact, we find that 
men with at least one year of college education (an 
ever increasing group) move more, and further, than 
those without. Thus we find that the professional and 
technical populations are among the most mobile of 
all Americans. And we find an increasing number of 
affluent executives who move far and frequently. (It 
is a house joke among executives of the International 
Business Machine Corporation that IBM stands for 
“I’ve Been Moved.”) In the emerging super-industrial- 

Places: The New Nomads 


ism it is precisely these groups— professional, technical 
and managerial— who increase in both absolute num- 
ber and as a proportion of the total work force. They 
also give the society its characteristic flavor, as the 
denim-clad factory worker did in the past. 

Just as millions of poverty-stricken and unemployed 
rural workers are flowing from the agricultural past 
into the industrial present in Europe, so thousands of 
European scientists, engineers and technicians are 
flowing into the United States and Canada, the most 
super-industrial of nations. In West Germany, Profes- 
sor Rudolf Mossbauer, a Nobel prizewinner in physics, 
announces that he is thinking of migrating to America 
because of disagreements over administrative and 
budgetary policies at home. Europe’s political minis- 
ters, worried over the “technology gap,” have looked 
on helplessly as Westinghouse, Allied Chemical, Doug- 
las Aircraft, General Dynamics and other major Amer- 
ican corporations sent talent scouts to London or 
Stockholm to lime away everyone from astrophysicists 
to turbine engineers. 

But there is a simultaneous “brain-drain” inside the 
United States, with thousands of scientists and engi- 
neers moving back and forth like particles in an atom. 
There are, in fact, well recognized patterns of move- 
ment. Two major streams, one from the North and the 
other from the South, both converge in California and 
the other Pacific Coast states, with a way station at 
Denver. Another major stream flows up from the South 
toward Chicago and Cambridge, Princeton and Long 
Island. A counter-stream carries men back to the 
space and electronics industries in Florida. 

A typical young space engineer of my acquaintance 
quit his job with RCA at Princeton to go to work for 
General Electric. The house he had purchased only 
two years before was sold; his family moved into a 
rented house just outside Philadelphia, while a new 
one was built for them. They will move into this new 
house— the fourth in about five years— provided he is 



not transferred or offered a better job elsewhere. And 
all the time, California beckons. 

There is a less obvious geographical pattern to the 
movement of management men, but, if anything, the 
turnover is heavier. A decade ago William Whyte, in 
The Organization Man, declared that “The man who 
leaves home is not the exception in American society 
but the key to it. Almost by definition, the organization 
man is a man who left home and . . . kept on going.” 
His characterization, correct then, is even truer today. 
The Wall Street Journal refers to “corporate gypsies” 
in an article headlined “How Executive Family Adapts 
to Incessant Moving About Country.” It describes the 
life of M. E. Jacobson, an executive with the Mont- 
gomery Ward retail chain. He and his wife, both 
forty-six at the time the story appeared, had moved 
twenty-eight times in twenty-six years of married life. 
“I almost feel like were just camping,” his wife tells 
her visitors. While their case is atypical, thousands 
like them move on the average of once every two 
years, and their numbers multiply. This is true not 
merely because corporate needs are constantly shift- 
ing, but also because top management regards fre- 
quent relocation of its potential successors as a 
necessary step in their training. 

This moving of executives from house to house as 
if they were life-size chessmen on a continent-sized 
board has led one psychologist to propose facetiously 
a money-saving system called “The Modular Family.” 
Under this scheme, the executive not only leaves his 
house behind, but his family as well. The company 
then finds him a matching family (personality char- 
acteristics carefully selected to duplicate those of the 
wife and children left behind) at the new site. Some 
other itinerant executive then “plugs into” the family 
left behind. No one appears to have taken the idea 
seriously— yet. 

In addition to the large groups of professionals, 
technicians and executives who engage in a constant 
round of “musical homes,” there are many other pecu- 

Places : The New Nomads 


liarly mobile groupings in the society. A large military 
establishment includes tens of thousands of families 
who, peacetime and wartime, move again and again. 
“I’m not decorating any more houses,” snaps the wife 
of an army colonel with irony in her voice: “The cur- 
tains never fit from one house to the next and the rug 
is always the wrong size or color. From now on I’m 
decorating my car.” Tens of thousands of skilled con- 
struction workers add to the flow. On another level are 
the more than 750,000 students attending colleges 
away from their home state, plus the hundreds of 
thousands more who are away from home but still 
within their home state. For millions, and particularly 
for the “people of the future,” home is where you 
find it. 


Such tidal movements of human beings produce all 
sorts of seldom-noticed side effects. Businesses that 
mail direct to the customer’s home spend uncounted 
dollars keeping their address lists up to date. The same 
is true of telephone companies. Of the 885,000 listings 
in the Washington, D. C., telephone book in 1969, over 
half were different from the year before. Similarly, 
organizations and associations have a difficult time 
knowing where their members are. Within a single re- 
cent year fully one-third of the members of the Nation- 
al Society for Programmed Instruction, an organization 
of educational researchers, changed their addresses. 
Even friends have trouble keeping up with each other’s 
whereabouts. One can sympathize with the plaint of 
poor Count Lanfranco Rasponi, who laments that 
travel and movement have destroyed “society.” There 
is no social season any more, he says, because nobody 
is anywhere at the same time— except, of course, no- 
bodies. The good Count has been quoted as saying: 
“Before this, if you wanted twenty for dinner, you’d 
have to ask forty— but now you first ask 200.” 



Despite such inconveniences, the overthrow of the 
tyranny of geography opens a form of freedom that 
proves exhilarating to millions. Speed, movement and 
even relocation carry positive connotations for many. 
This accounts for the psychological attachment that 
Americans and Europeans display toward automobiles 
—the technological incarnation of spatial freedom. 
Motivational researcher Ernest Dichter has unbur- 
dened himself of abundant Freudian nonsense in his 
time, but he is shrewdly insightful when he suggests 
that the auto is the “most powerful tool for mastery” 
available to the ordinary Western man. “The auto- 
mobile has become the modem symbol of initiation. 
The license of the sixteen-year-old is a valid admission 
to adult society.” 

In the affluent nations, he writes, “most people have 
enough to eat and are reasonably well housed. Having 
achieved this thousand-year-old dream of humanity, 
they now reach out for further satisfactions. They 
want to travel, discover, be at least physically inde- 
pendent. The automobile is the mobile symbol of 
mobility . . In fact, the last thing that any family 
wishes to surrender, when hardpressed by financial 
hardship, is the automobile, and the worst punishment 
an American parent can mete out to a teen-ager is to 
“ground” him— i.e., deprive him of the use of an 

Young girls in the United States, when asked what 
they regard as important about a boy, immediately 
list a car. Sixty-seven percent of those interviewed in 
a recent survey said a car is “essential,” and a nine- 
teen-year-old boy, Alfred Uranga of Albuquerque, 
N. M., confirmed gloomily that “If a guy doesn’t have 
a car, he doesn’t have a girl.” Just how deep this 
passion for automobility runs among the youth is 
tragically illustrated by the suicide of a seventeen- 
year-old Wisconsin boy, William Nebel, who was 
“grounded” by his father after his driver’s license was 
suspended for speeding. Before putting a .22 caliber 
rifle bullet in his brain, the boy penned a note that 

Places: The New Nomads 


ended, “Without a license, I don’t have my car, job or 
social life. So I think that it is better to end it all right 
now.” It is clear that millions of young people all over 
the technological world agree with the poet Marinetti 
who, more than half a century ago, shouted: “A roar- 
ing racing car ... is more beautiful than the Winged 

Freedom from fixed social position is linked so close- 
ly with freedom from fixed geographical position, that 
when super-industrial man feels socially constricted 
his first impulse is to relocate. This idea seldom occurs 
to the peasant raised in his village or the coalminer 
toiling away in the black deeps. “A lot of problems 
are solved by migration. Go. Travell” said a student 
of mine before rushing off to join the Peace Corps. 
But movement becomes a positive value in its own 
right, an assertion of freedom, not merely a response to 
or escape from outside pressures. A survey of 539 
subscribers to Redbook magazine sought to determine 
why their addresses had changed in the previous year. 
Along with such reasons as “family grew too big for 
old home” or “pleasanter surroundings” fully ten per- 
cent checked off “just wanted a change.” 

An extreme manifestation of this urge to move is 
found among the female hitch-hikers who are begin- 
ning to form a recognizable sociological category of 
their own. Thus a young Catholic girl in England gives 
up her job selling advertising space for a magazine 
and goes off with a friend intending to hitchhike to 
Turkey. In Hamburg the girls split up. The first girl, 
Jackie, cruises the Greek Islands, reaches Istanbul, 
and at length returns to England, where she takes a 
job with another magazine. She stays only long enough 
to finance another trip. After that she comes back 
and works as a waitress, rejecting promotion to hostess 
on grounds that “I don’t expect to be in England very 
long.” At twenty-three Jackie is a confirmed hitch- 
hiker, thumbing her way indefatigably all over Europe 
with a gas pistol in her rucksack, returning to England 
for six or eight months, then starting out again. Ruth, 



twenty-eight, has been living this way for years, her 
longest stay in any one place having been three years. 
Hitchhiking as a way of life, she says, is fine because 
while it is possible to meet people, “you don’t get too 

Teen-age girls in particular— perhaps eager to es- 
cape restrictive home environments— are passionately 
keen travelers. A survey of girls who read Seventeen, 
for example, showed that 40.2 percent took one or 
more “major” trips during the summer before the sur- 
vey. Sixty-nine percent of these trips carried the girl 
outside her home state, and nine percent took her 
abroad. But the itch to travel begins long before the 
teen years. Thus when Beth, the daughter of a New 
York psychiatrist, learned that a friend of her’s had 
visited Europe, her tearful response was: “I’m nine 
years old already and I’ve never been to Europe!” 

This positive attitude toward movement is reflected 
in survey findings that Americans tend to admire trav- 
elers. Thus researchers at the University of Michigan 
have found -that respondents frequently term travelers 
“lucky” or “happy.” To travel is to gain status, which 
explains why so many American travelers keep ragged 
airline tags on their luggage or attache cases long after 
their return from a trip. One wag has suggested that 
someone set up a business washing and ironing old 
airline tags for status-conscious travelers. 

Moving one’s household, on the other hand, is a 
cause for commiseration rather than congratulations. 
Everyone makes ritual comments about the hardships 
of moving. Yet the fact is that those who have moved 
once are much more likely to move again than those 
who have never moved. The French sociologist Alain 
Touraine explains that “having already made one 
change and being less attached to the community, 
they are the readier to move again . . .” And a British 
trade-union official, R. Clark, not long ago told an in- 
ternational manpower conference that mobility might 
well be a habit formed in student days. He pointed 
out that those who spent their college years away from 

Places: The New Nomads 


home move in less restricted circles than uneducated 
and more home-bound manual workers. Not only do 
these college people move more in later life, but he 
suggested, they pass on to their children attitudes that 
facilitate mobility. While for many worker families 
relocation is a dreaded necessity, a consequence of 
unemployment or other hardships, for the middle and 
upper classes moving is most often associated with the 
extension of the good life. For them, traveling is a joy, 
and moving out usually means moving up. 

In short, throughout the nations in transition to 
super-industrialism, among the people of the future, 
movement is a way of life, a liberation from the con- 
strictions of the past, a step into the still more affluent 


Dramatically different attitudes, however, are evinced 
by the “immobiles.” It is not only the agricultural 
villager in India or Iran who remains fixed in one 
place for most or all of his life. The same is true of 
millions of blue-collar workers, particularly those in 
backward industries. As technological change roars 
through the advanced economies, outmoding whole 
industries and creating new ones almost overnight, 
millions of unskilled and semiskilled workers find 
themselves compelled to relocate. The economy de- 
mands mobility, and most Western governments— no- 
tably Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the United 
States— spend large sums to encourage workers to 
retrain for new jobs and leave their homes in pursuit 
of them. For coalminers in Appalachia or textile work- 
ers in the French provinces, however, this proves to 
be excruciatingly painful. Even for big-city workers 
uprooted by urban renewal and relocated quite near 
to their former homes, the disruption is often agoniz- 

“It is quite precise to speak of their reactions,” says 



Dr. Marc Fried of the Center for Community Studies, 
Massachusetts General Hospital, "as expressions of 
grief. These are manifest in the feelings of painful loss, 
the continued longing, the general depressive tone, 
frequent symptoms of psychological or social or so- 
matic distress . . . the sense of helplessness, the 
occasional expressions of both direct and displaced 
anger, and tendencies to idealize the lost place.” The 
responses, he declares, are "strikingly similar to mourn- 
ing for a lost person.” 

Sociologist Monique Viot, of the French Ministry 
of Social Affairs, says: “The French are very attached 
to their geographical backgrounds. For jobs even thirty 
or forty kilometers away they are reluctant— extremely 
reluctant— to move. The unions call such moves ‘depor- 
tations.’ ” 

Even some educated and affluent movers show signs 
of distress when they are called upon to relocate. The 
author Clifton Fadiman, telling of his move from a 
restful Connecticut town to Los Angeles, reports that 
he was shortly “felled by a shotgun burst of odd 
physical and mental ailments ... In the course of six 
months my illness got straightened out. The neurolo- 
gist . . . diagnosed my trouble as ‘culture shock’ . . .” 
For relocation of one’s home, even under the most 
favorable circumstances, entails a series of difficult 
psychological readjustments. 

In a famous study of a Canadian suburb they call 
Crestwood Heights, sociologists J. R. Seeley, R. A. 
Sim, and E. W. Loosley, state: "The rapidity with 
which the transition has to be accomplished, and the 
depth to which change must penetrate the personality 
are such as to call for the greatest flexibility of be- 
havior and stability of personality. Ideology, speech 
sometimes, food habits, and preferences in decor must 
be made over with relative suddenness and in the ab- 
sence of unmistakable clues as to the behavior to be 

The steps by which people make such adjustments 
have been mapped out by psychiatrist James S. Ty- 

Places: The New Nomads 


hurst of the University of British Columbia. “In field 
studies of individuals following immigration,” he says, 
“a fairly consistent pattern can ... be defined. Ini- 
tially, the person is concerned with the immediate 
present, with an attempt to find work, make money, 
and find shelter. These features are often accompanied 
by restlessness and increased psychomotor activity . . .” 
As the person’s sense of strangeness or incongruity 
in the new surroundings grows, a second phase, “psy- 
chological arrival,” takes place. “Characteristic of this 
are increasing anxiety and depression; increasing self- 
preoccupation, often with somatic preoccupations and 
somatic symptoms; general withdrawal from the so- 
ciety in contrast to previous activity; and some degree 
of hostility and suspicion. The sense of difference and 
helplessness becomes increasingly intense and the 
period is characterized by marked discomfort and tur- 
moil. This period of more or less disturbance may last 
for . . . one to several months.” 

Only then does the third phase begin. This takes 
the form of relative adjustment to the new surround- 
ings, a settling in, or else, in extreme cases, “the de- 
velopment of more severe disturbances manifested by 
more intense disorders of mood, the development of 
abnormal mental content and breaks with reality.” 
Some people, in short, never do adjust adequately. 


Even when they do, however, they are no longer the 
same as before, for any relocation, of necessity, de- 
stroys a complex web-work of old relationships and 
establishes a set of new ones. It is this disruption that, 
especially if repeated more than once, breeds the “loss 
of commitment” that many writers have noted among 
the high mobiles. The man on the move is ordinarily 
in too much of a hurry to put down roots in any one 
place. Thus an airline executive is quoted as saying 
he avoids involvement in the political life of his com- 



munity because “in a few years I won’t even be living 
here. You plant a tree and you never see it grow.” 

This non-involvement or, at best, limited participa- 
tion, has been sharply criticized by those who see in 
it a menace to the traditional ideal of grass-roots 
democracy. They overlook, however, an important 
reality: the possibility that those who refuse to in- 
volve themselves deeply in community affairs may be 
showing greater moral responsibility than those who 
do— and then move away. The movers boost a tax 
rate— but avoid paying the piper because they are no 
longer there. They help defeat a school bond issue— 
and leave the children of others to suffer the conse- 
quences. Does it not make more sense, is it not more 
responsible, to disqualify oneself in advance? Yet if 
one does withdraw from participation, refusing to join 
organizations, refusing to establish close ties with 
neighbors, refusing, in short, to commit oneself, what 
happens to the community and the self? Can in- 
dividuals or society survive without commitment? 

Commitment takes many forms. One of these is at- 
tachment to place. We can understand the signifi- 
cance of mobility only if we first recognize the cen- 
trality of fixed place in the psychological architecture 
of traditional man. This centrality is reflected in our 
culture in innumerable ways. Indeed, civilization, 
itself, began with agriculture— which meant settle- 
ment, an end, at last, to the dreary treks and migra- 
tions of the paleolithic nomad. The very word 
“rootedness” to which we pay so much attention to- 
day is agricultural in origin. The precivilized nomad 
listening to a discussion of “roots” would scarcely 
have understood the concept. 

The notion of roots is taken to mean a fixed place, a 
permanently anchored “home.” In a harsh, hungry 
and dangerous world, home, even when no more than 
a hovel, came to be regarded as the ultimate retreat, 
rooted in the earth, handed down from generation to 
generation, one’s link with both nature and the past. 
The immobility of home was taken for granted, and 


Places: The New Nomads 

literature overflows with reverent references to the 
importance of home. “Seek home for rest, For home 
is best” are lines from Instructions to Housewifery, a 
sixteenth-century manual by Thomas Tusser, and 
there are dozens of what one might, at the risk of 
a terrible pun, call “home-ilies” embedded in the 
culture. “A mans home is his castle . . “There’s no 
place like home . . .” “Home, sweet home . . The 
syrupy glorification of home reached, perhaps, a 
climax in nineteenth-century England at precisely the 
time that industrialism was uprooting the rural folk 
and converting them into urban masses. Thomas 
Hood, the poet of the poor, tells us that “each heart 
is whispering, Home, Home at last . . .” and Tenny- 
son paints a classically cloying picture of 

An English home— gray twilight poured 
On dewy pastures, dewy trees. 

Softer than sleep— all things in order stored, 

A haunt of ancient peace. 

In a world churned by the industrial revolution, 
and in which all things were decidedly not “in order 
stored,” home was the anchorage, the fixed point in 
the storm. If nothing else, at least it could be counted 
upon to stay in one place. Alas, this was poetry, not 
reality, and it could not hold back the forces that 
were to tear man loose from fixed location. 


The nomad of the past moved through blizzards and 
parching heat, always pursued by hunger, but he 
carried with him his buffalo-hide tent, his family and 
the rest of his tribe. He carried his social setting with 
him, and, as often as not, the physical structure that 
he called home. In contrast, the new nomads of today 
leave the physical structure behind. (It becomes an 
entry in the tables showing the turnover rate for 



things in their lives.) And they leave all but their 
family, the most immediate social setting, behind. 

The downgrading of the importance of place, the 
decline in commitment to it, is expressed in scores of 
ways. A recent example was the decision of Ivy 
League colleges in the United States to de-empha- 
size geographical considerations in their admissions 
policies. These elite colleges traditionally applied 
geographical criteria to applicants, deliberately favor- 
ing boys from homes located far from their campuses, 
in the hopes of assembling a highly diversified stu- 
dent body. Between the 1930’s and the 1950’s, for 
example, Harvard cut in half the percentage of its 
students from homes in New England and New York. 
Today, says an official of the university, “We’re 
pulling back on this geographical distribution thing.” 

Place, it is now recognized, is no longer a primary 
source of diversity. Differences between people no 
longer correlate closely with geographical background. 
The address on the application form may be purely 
temporary anyway. Many people no longer stay in 
one place long enough to acquire distinctive regional 
or local characteristics. Says the dean of admissions at 
Yale: “Of course, we still send our recruiting people 
to out-of-the-way places like Nevada, but there’s 
really as much diversity in taking Harlem, Park Ave- 
nue and Queens.” According to this official, Yale has 
virtually dropped geography altogether as a consid- 
eration in selection. And his counterpart at Princeton 
reports: “It is not the place they’re from, really, but 
rather some sense of a different background that 
we’re looking for.” 

Mobility has stirred the pot so thoroughly that the 
important differences between people are no longer 
strongly place-related. So far has the decline in com- 
mitment to place gone, according to Prof. John Dyck- 
man of the University of Pennsylvania, that “Alle- 
giance to a city or state is even now weaker for many 
than allegiance to a corporation, a profession, or a 

Places: The New Nomads 


voluntary association.” Thus it might be said that 
commitments are shifting from place-related social 
structures (city, state, nation or neighborhood) to 
those (corporation, profession, friendship network) 
that are themselves mobile, fluid, and, for all prac- 
tical purposes, place-less. 

Commitment, however, appears to correlate with 
duration of relationship. Armed with a culturally 
conditioned set of durational expectancies, we have 
all learned to invest with emotional content those 
relationships that appear to us to be “permanent” or 
relatively long-lasting, while withholding emotion, as 
much as possible, from short-term relationships. 
There are, of course, exceptions; the swift summer 
romance is one. But, in general, across a broad variety 
of relationships, the correlation holds. The declining 
commitment to place is thus related not to mobility 
per se, but to a concomitant of mobility— the shorter 
duration of place relationships. 

In seventy major United States cities, for example, 
including New York, average residence in one place 
is less than four years. Contrast this with the lifelong 
residence in one place characteristic of the rural 
villager. Moreover, residential relocation is critical 
in determining the duration of many other place re- 
lationships, so that when an individual terminates his 
relationship with a home, he usually also terminates 
his relationship with all kinds of “satellite” places in 
the neighborhood. He changes his supermarket, gas 
station, bus stop and barbershop, thus cutting short a 
series of other place relationships along with the 
home relationship. Across the board, therefore, we 
not only experience more places in the course of a 
lifetime, but, on average, maintain our link with each 
place for a shorter and shorter interval. 

Thus we begin to see more clearly how the acceler- 
ative thrust in society affects the individual. For this 
telescoping of man’s relationships with place precisely 
parallels the truncation of his relationship with things. 



In both cases, the individual is forced to make and 
break his ties more rapidly. In both cases, the level 
of transience rises. In both cases, he experiences a 
quickening of the pace of life. 

Chapter 6 



Each spring an immense lemming-like migration be- 
gins all over the Eastern United States. Singly and in 
groups, burdened with sleeping bags, blankets and 
bathing suits, some 15,000 American college students 
toss aside their texts and follow a highly accurate 
homing instinct that leads them to the sun-bleached 
shoreline of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There, for 
approximately a week, this teeming, milling mass of 
sun and sex worshippers swims, sleeps, flirts, guzzles 
beer, sprawls and brawls in the sands. At the end of 
this period the bikini-clad girls and their bronzed 
admirers pack their kits and join in a mass exodus. 
Anyone near the booth set up by the resort city to 
welcome this rambunctious army can now hear the 
loudspeaker booming: “Car with two can take rider as 
far as Atlanta . . . Need ride to Washington . . . 
Leaving at 10:00 for Louisville . . .” In a few hours 
nothing is left of the great “beach-and-booze party” 
except butts and beer cans in the sand, and about 
$1.5 million in the cash registers of local merchants 
—who regard this annual invasion as a tainted bless- 
ing that threatens public sanity while it underwrites 
private profit. 

What attracts the young people is more than an 
irrepressible passion for sunshine. Nor is it mere sex, 




a commodity available in other places as well. Rather, 
it is a sense of freedom without responsibility. In the 
words of a nineteen-year-old New York co-ed who 
made her way to the festivities recently: “You’re not 
worried about what you do or say here because, 
frankly, you’ll never see these people again.” 

What the Fort Lauderdale rite supplies is a tran- 
sient agglomeration of people that makes possible a 
great diversity of temporary interpersonal relation- 
ships. And it is precisely this— temporariness— that 
increasingly characterizes human relations as we 
move further toward super-industrialism. For just 
as things and places flow through our lives at a faster 
clip, so, too, do people. 


Urbanism— the city dweller’s way of life— has preoc- 
cupied sociology since the turn of the century. Max 
Weber pointed out the obvious fact that people in 
cities cannot know all their neighbors as intimately 
as it was possible for them to do in small communi- 
ties. Georg Simmel carried this idea one step further 
when he declared, rather quaintly, that if the urban 
individual reacted emotionally to each and every per- 
son with whom he came into contact, or cluttered his 
mind with information about them, he would be 
“completely atomized internally and would fall into 
an unthinkable mental condition.” 

Louis Wirth, in turn, noted the fragmented nature 
of urban relationships. “Characteristically, urbanites 
meet one another in highly segmental roles . . he 
wrote. “Their dependence upon others is confined to 
a highly fractionalized aspect of the other’s round of 
activity.” Rather than becoming deeply involved with 
the total personality of every individual we meet, he 
explained, we necessarily maintain superficial and 
partial contact with some. We are interested only in 
the efficiency of the shoe salesman in meeting our 

People: The Modular Man 97 

needs: we couldn’t care less that his wife is an alco- 

What this means is that we form limited involve- 
ment relationships with most of the people around us. 
Consciously or not, we define our relationships with 
most people in functional terms. So long as we do 
not become involved with the shoe salesman’s prob- 
lems at home, or his more general hopes, dreams and 
frustrations, he is, for us, fully interchangeable with 
any other salesman of equal competence. In effect, 
we have applied the modular principle to human 
relationships. We have created the disposable person: 
Modular Man. 

Rather than entangling ourselves with the whole 
man, we plug into a module of his personality. Each 
personality can be imagined as a unique configuration 
of thousands of such modules. Thus no whole person 
is interchangeable with any other. But certain mod- 
ules are. Since we are seeking only to buy a pair of 
shoes, and not the friendship, love or hate of the 
salesman, it is not necessary for us to tap into or 
engage with all the other modules that form his per- 
sonality. Our relationship is safely limited. There is 
limited liability on both sides. The relationship entails 
certain accepted forms of behavior and communica- 
tion. Both sides understand, consciously or otherwise, 
the limitations and laws. Difficulties arise only when 
one or another party oversteps the tacitly understood 
limits, when he attempts to connect up with some 
module not relevant to the function at hand. 

Today a vast sociological and psychological liter- 
ature is devoted to the alienation presumed to flow 
from this fragmentation of relationships. Much of 
the rhetoric of existentialism and the student revolt 
decries this fragmentation. It is said that we are not 
sufficiently “involved” with our fellow man. Millions 
of young people go about seeking “total involve- 

Before leaping to the popular conclusion that 
modularization is all bad, however, it might be well 



to look more closely at the matter. Theologian Har- 
vey Cox, echoing Simmel, has pointed out that in 
an urban environment the attempt to “involve” one- 
self fully with everyone can lead only to self-destruc- 
tion and emotional emptiness. Urban man, he writes, 
“must have more or less impersonal relationships with 
most of the people with whom he comes in contact 
precisely in order to choose certain friendships to 
nourish and cultivate . . . His life represents a point 
touched by dozens of systems and hundreds of peo- 
ple. His capacity to know some of them better neces- 
sitates his minimizing the depth of his relationship 
to many others. Listening to the postman gossip 
becomes for the urban man an act of sheer gracious- 
ness, since he probably has no interest in the people 
the postman wants to talk about.” 

Moreover, before lamenting modularization, it is 
necessary to ask ourselves whether we really would 
prefer to return to the traditional condition of man 
in which each individual presumably related to the 
whole personality of a few people rather than to the 
personality modules of many. Traditional man has 
been so sentimentalized, so cloyingly romanticized, 
that we frequently overlook the consequences of such 
a return. The very same writers who lament frag- 
mentation also demand freedom— yet overlook the un- 
freedom of people bound together in totalistic re- 
lationships. For any relationship implies mutual de- 
mands and expectations. The more intimately in- 
volved a relationship, the greater the pressure the 
parties exert on one another to fulfill these expecta- 
tions. The tighter and more totalistic the relationship, 
the more modules, so to speak, are brought into play, 
and the more numerous are the demands we make. 

In a modular relationship, the demands are strictly 
bounded. So long as the shoe salesman performs his 
rather limited service for us, thereby fulfilling our 
rather limited expectations, we do not insist that he 
believe in our God, or that he be tidy at home, or 
share our political values, or enjoy the same kind of 


People: The Modular Man 

food or music that we do. We leave him free in all 
other matters— as he leaves us free to be atheist or 
Jew, heterosexual or homosexual, John Bircher or 
Communist. This is not true of the total relationship 
and cannot be. To a certain point, fragmentation and 
freedom go together. 

All of us seem to need some totalistic relationships 
in our lives. But to decry the fact that we cannot 
have only such relationships is nonsense. And to pre- 
fer a society in which the individual has holistic 
relationships with a few, rather than modular re- 
tionships with many, is to wish for a return to the 
imprisonment of the past— a past when individuals 
may have been more tightly bound to one another, 
but when they were also more tightly regimented by 
social conventions, sexual mores, political and reli- 
gious restrictions. 

This is not to say that modular relationships entail 
no risks or that this is the best of all possible worlds. 
There are, in fact, profound risks in the situation, as 
we shall attempt to show. Until now, however, the 
entire public and professional discussion of these 
issues has been badly out of focus. For it has over- 
looked a critical dimension of all interpersonal re- 
lationships: their duration. 


Sociologists like Wirth have referred in passing to 
the transitory nature of human ties in urban society. 
But they have made no systematic effort to relate the 
shorter duration of human ties to shorter durations 
in other kinds of relationships. Nor have they at- 
tempted to document the progressive decline in these 
durations. Until we analyze the temporal character of 
human bonds, we will completely misunderstand the 
move toward super-industrialism. 

For one thing, the decline in the average duration 
of human relationships is a likely corollary of the in- 



crease in the number of such relationships. The aver- 
age urban individual today probably comes into con- 
tact with more people in a week than the feudal 
villager did in a year, perhaps even a lifetime. The 
villager’s ties with other people no doubt included 
some transient relationships, but most of the people 
he knew were the same throughout his life. The ur- 
ban man may have a core group of people with whom 
his interactions are sustained over long periods of 
time, but he also interacts with hundreds, perhaps 
thousands of people whom he may see only once or 
twice and who then vanish into anonymity. 

All of us approach human relationships, as we ap- 
proach other kinds of relationships, with a set of 
built-in durational expectancies. We expect that cer- 
tain kinds of relationships will endure longer than 
others. It is, in fact, possible to classify relationships 
with other people in terms of their expected duration. 
These vary, of course, from culture to culture and 
from person to person. Nevertheless, throughout wide 
sectors of the population of the advanced technologi- 
cal societies something like the following order is typ- 

ical: . 

Long-duration relationships. We expect ties with 
our immediate family, and to a lesser extent with 
other kin, to extend throughout the lifetimes of the 
people involved. This expectation is by no means 
always fulfilled, as rising divorce rates and fami y 
break-ups indicate. Nevertheless, we still theoretically 
marry "until death do us part and the social ideal is 
a lifetime relationship. Whether this is a proper or 
realistic expectation in a society of high transience is 
debatable. The fact remains, however, that family 
links are expected to be long term, if not lifelong, 
and considerable guilt attaches to the person who 
breaks off such a relationship. 

Medium-duration relationships. Four classes of re- 
lationships fall within this category. Roughly in order 
of descending durational expectancies, these are re- 
lationships with friends, neighbors, job associates, and 

People: The Modular Man 101 

co-members of churches, clubs and other voluntary 

Friendships are traditionally supposed to survive al- 
most, if not quite, as long as family ties. The culture 
places high value on “old friends” and a certain 
amount of blame attaches to dropping a friendship. 
One type of friendship relationship, however, ac- 
quaintanceship, is recognized as less durable. 

Neighbor relationships are no longer regarded as 
long-term commitments— the rate of geographical turn- 
over is too high. They are expected to last as long 
as the individual remains in a single location, an 
interval that is growing shorter and shorter on aver- 
age. Breaking off with a neighbor may involve other 
difficulties, but it carries no great burden of guilt. 

On-the-job relationships frequently overlap friend- 
ships, and less often, neighbor relationships. Tradi- 
tionally, particularly among white-collar, professional 
and technical people, job relationships were supposed 
to last a relatively long time. This expectation, how- 
ever, is also changing rapidly, as we shall see. 

Co-membership relationships— links with people in 
church or civic organizations, political parties and the 
like— sometimes flower into friendship, but until that 
happens such individual associations are regarded as 
more perishable than either friendships, ties with 
neighbors or fellow workers. 

Short-duration relationships. Most, though not all, 
service relationships fall into this category. These in- 
volve sales clerks, delivery people, gas station attend- 
ants, milkmen, barbers, hairdressers, etc. The turn- 
over among these is relatively rapid and little or no 
shame attaches to the person who terminates such a 
relationship. Exceptions to the service patterns are 
professionals such as physicians, lawyers and account- 
ants, with whom relationships are expected to be some- 
what more enduring. 

This categorization is hardly airtight. Most of us 
can cite some “service” relationship that has lasted 
longer than some friendship, job or neighbor rela- 

102 Transience 

tionship. Moreover, most of us can cite a number of 
quite long-lasting relationships in our own lives— 
perhaps we have been going to the same doctor for 
years or have maintained extremely close ties with 
a college friend. Such cases are hardly unusual, but 
they are relatively few in number in our lives. They 
are like long-stemmed flowers towering above a field 
of grass in which each blade represents a short-term 
relationship, a transient contact. It is the very dura- 
bility of these ties that makes them noticeable. Such 
exceptions do not invalidate the rule. They do not 
change the key fact that, across the board, the aver- 
age interpersonal relationship in our life is shorter 
and shorter in duration. 


Continuing urbanization is merely one of a number 
of pressures driving us toward greater temporari- 
ness” in our human relationships. Urbanization, as sug- 
gested earlier, brings great masses of people into close 
proximity, thereby increasing the actual number of 
contacts made. This process is, however, strongly re- 
inforced by the rising geographical mobility de- 
scribed in the last chapter. Geographical mobility not 
only speeds up the flow of places through our lives, 
but the flow of people as well. 

The increase in travel brings with it a sharp in- 
crease in the number of transient, casual relationships 
with fellow passengers, with hotel clerks, taxi drivers, 
airline reservation people, with porters, maids, wait- 
ers, with colleagues and friends of friends, with cus 
toms officials, travel agents and countless others. The 
greater the mobility of the individual, the greater 
the number of brief, face-to-face encounters, human 
contacts, each one a relationship of sorts, fragmentary 
and, above all, compressed in time. (Such contacts 
appear natural and unimportant to us. We seldom 
stop to consider how few of the sixty-six billion hu- 

People: The Modular Man 103 

man beings who preceded us on the planet ever ex- 
perienced this high rate of transience in their human 
relationships. ) 

If travel increases the number of contacts— largely 
with service people of one sort or another— residential 
relocation also steps up the through-put of people in 
our lives. Moving leads to the termination of relation- 
ships in almost all categories. The young submarine 
engineer who is transferred from his job in the Navy 
Yard at Mare Island, California, to the installation at 
Newport News, Virginia, takes only his most imme- 
diate family with him. He leaves behind parents and 
in-laws, neighbors, service and tradespeople, as well 
as his associates on the job, and others. He cuts short 
his ties. In settling down in the new community, he, 
his wife and child must initiate a whole cluster of 
new (and once more temporary) relationships. 

Here is how one young wife, a veteran of eleven 
moves in the past seventeen years, describes the proc- 
ess: “When you live in a neighborhood you watch a 
series of changes take place. One day a new mailman 
delivers the mail. A few weeks later the girl at the 
check-out counter at the supermarket disappears and 
a new one takes her place. Next thing you know, the 
mechanic at the gas station is replaced. Meanwhile, a 
neighbor moves out next door and a new family 
moves in. These changes are taking place all the time, 
but they are gradual. When you move, you break all 
these ties at once, and you have to start all over again. 
You have to find a new pediatrician, a new dentist, a 
new car mechanic who won’t cheat you, and you quit 
all your organizations and start over again.” It is the 
simultaneous rupture of a whole range of existing 
relationships that makes relocation psychologically 
taxing for many. 

The more frequently this cycle repeats itself, of 
course, in the life of the individual, the shorter the 
duration of the relationships involved. Among sig- 
nificant sectors of the population this process is now 
occurring so rapidly that it is drastically altering tra- 



ditional notions of time with respect to human rela- 
tionships. “At a cocktail party on Frogtown Road 
the other night,” reads a story in The New York 
Times, “the talk got around to how long those at the 
party had lived in New Canaan. To nobody’s sur- 
prise, it developed that the couple of longest resi- 
dence had been there five years.” In slower moving 
times and places, five years constituted little more 
than a breaking-in period for a family moved to a 
new community. It took that long to be “accepted.” 
Today the breaking-in-period must be highly com- 
pressed in time. 

Thus we have in many American suburbs a com- 
mercial “Welcome Wagon” service that accelerates 
the process by introducing newcomers to the chief 
stores and agencies in the community. A paid Wel- 
come Wagon employee— usually a middle-aged lady- 
visits the newcomers, answers questions about the 
community, and leaves behind brochures and, some- 
times, inexpensive gift certificates redeemable at local 
stores. Since it affects only relationships in the service 
category and is, actually, little more than a form of 
advertising, the Welcome Wagon’s integrative impact 
is superficial. 

The process of linking up with new neighbors and 
friends is, however, often quite effectively accelerat- 
ed by the presence of certain people— usually di- 
vorced or single older women— who play the role of 
informal “integrator” in the community. Such people 
are found in many established suburbs and housing 
developments. Their function has been described by 
urban sociologist Robert Gutman of Rutgers Univer- 
sity, who notes that while the integrator herself is 
frequently isolated from the mainstream of social life 
in the community, she derives pleasure from serving 
as a “bridge” for newcomers. She takes the initiative 
by inviting them to parties and other gatherings. The 
newcomers are duly flattered that an “oldtime” resi- 
dent— in many communities “oldtime” means two 
years— is willing to invite them. The newcomers, alas, 


People: The Modular Man 

quickly learn that the integrator is herself an “out- 
sider” whereupon, more often than not, they promptly 
disassociate themselves from her. 

“Fortunately for the integrator,” Gutman says, “by 
the time he or she managed to introduce the new- 
comer to the community and the newcomer in turn 
had gone on to abandon the integrator, there were 
new arrivals in the settlement to whom the integrator 
could once again proffer the hand of friendship.” 

Other people in the community also help speed 
the process of relationship formation. Thus, in de- 
velopments, Gutman says, “Respondents reported that 
the real estate agents introduced them to neighbors 
before they had taken possession. In some cases, 
wives were called on by other wives in the neighbor- 
hood, sometimes individually and sometimes in groups. 
Neighboring wives, or husbands, encountered each 
other casually, while out gardening and cleaning up 
the yard or in tending children. And, of course, there 
were the usual meetings brought about by the chil- 
dren, who themselves often were the first to establish 
contact with the human population of the new en- 

Local organizations also play an important part in 
helping the individual integrate quickly into the com- 
munity. This is more likely to be true among subur- 
ban homeowners than among housing development 
residents. Churches, political parties and women’s 
organizations provide many of the human relation- 
ships that the newcomers seek. According to Gutman, 
“Sometimes a neighbor would inform the newcomer 
about the existence of the voluntary association, and 
might even take the newcomer to his first meeting; 
but even in these cases it was up to the migrant him- 
self to find his own primary group within the asso- 

The knowledge that no move is final, that some- 
where along the road the nomads will once more 
gather up their belongings and migrate, works against 
the development of relationships that are more than 



modular, and it means that if relationships are to be 
struck up at all, they had better be whipped into life 

If, however, the breaking-in period is compressed 
in time, the leave-taking— the breaking-out— is also 
telescoped. This is particularly true of service re- 
lationships which, being unidimensional, can be both 
initiated and terminated with dispatch. “They come 
and they go,” says the manager of a suburban food 
store. “You miss them one day and then you learn 
they’ve moved to Dallas.” “Washington, D. C., re- 
tailers seldom have a chance to build long, enduring 
relationships with customers,” observes a writer in 
Business Week. “Different faces all the time,” says a 
conductor on the New Haven commuter line. 

Even babies soon become aware of the transience 
of human ties. The “nanny” of the past has given way 
to the baby-sitter service which sends out a different 
person each time to mind the children. And the same 
trend toward time-truncated relationships is reflected 
in the demise of the family doctor. The late lamented 
family doctor, the general practitioner, did not have 
the refined narrow expertise of the specialist, but he 
did, at least, have the advantage of being able to 
observe the same patient almost from cradle to coffin. 
Today the patient doesn’t stay put. Instead of en- 
joying a long-term relationship with a single physi- 
cian, he flits back and forth between a variety of 
specialists, changing these relationships each time he 
relocates to a new community. Even within any 
single relationship, the contacts become shorter and 
shorter as well. Thus the authors of Crestwood 
Heights, discussing the interaction of experts and lay- 
men, refer to “the short duration of any one exposure 
to each other . . . The nature of their contact, which 
is in turn a function of busy, time-pressed lives on 
both sides, means that any message must be collapsed 
into a very brief communique, and that there must 
not be too many of these . . .” The impact that this 
fragmentation and contraction of patient-doctor rela- 

People: The Modular Man 107 

tionships has on health care ought to be more seri- 
ously explored. 


Each time the family moves, it also tends to slough off 
a certain number of just plain friends and acquaint- 
ances. Left behind, they are eventually all but for- 
gotten. Separation does not end all relationships. We 
maintain contact with, perhaps, one or two friends 
from the old location, and we tend to keep in spor- 
adic touch with relatives. But with each move there 
is a deadly attrition. At first there is an eager flurry 
of letters back and forth. There may be occasional 
visits or telephone calls. But gradually these decrease 
in frequency. Finally, they stop coming. Says a typi- 
cal English suburbanite after leaving London: “You 
can’t forget it [London]. Not with all your family 
living there and that. We still got friends living in 
Plumstead and Eltham. We used to go back every 
weekend. But you can’t keep that up.” 

John Barth has captured the sense of turnover 
among friendships in a passage from his novel The 
Floating Opera: “Our friends float past; we become 
involved with them; they float on, and we must rely 
on hearsay or lose track of them completely; they 
float back again, and we must either renew our 
friendship— catch up to date— or find that they and we 
don’t comprehend each other any more.” The only fault 
in this is its unspoken suggestion that the current upon 
which friendships bob and float is lazy and meander- 
ing. The current today is picking up speed. Friend- 
ship increasingly resembles a canoe shooting the 
rapids of the river of change. “Pretty soon,” says 
Professor Eli Ginzberg of Columbia University, an 
expert on manpower mobility, “we’re all going to be 
metropolitan-type people in this country without ties 
or commitments to long time friends and neighbors.” 
In a brilliant paper on “Friendships in the Future,” 

208 Transience 

psychologist Courtney Tall suggests that “Stability 
based on close relationships with a few people will be 
ineffective, due to the high mobility, wide interest 
range, and varying capacity for adaptation and 
change found among the members of a highly auto- 
mated society . . . Individuals will develop the ability 
to form close ‘buddy-type relationships on the basis 
of common interests or sub-group affiliations, and to 
easily leave these friendships, moving either to an- 
other location and joining a similar interest group or 
to another interest group within the same location 
. . . Interests will change rapidly ... 

“This ability to form and then to drop, or lower to 
the level of acquaintanceship, close relationships 
quickly, coupled with increased mobility, will result 
in any given individual forming many more friend- 
ships than is possible for most in the present . . . 
Friendship patterns of the majority in the future will 
provide for many satisfactions, while substituting 
many close relationships of shorter durability ror the 
few long-term friendships formed in the past. 


One reason to believe that the trend toward tem- 
porary relationships will continue is the impact of 
new technology on occupations. Even if the push 
toward megalopolis stopped and people froze in their 
geographical tracks, there would still be a sharp in- 
crease in the number, and decrease in the duration 
of relationships as a consequence of job changes. For 
the introduction of advanced technology, whether we 
call it automation or not, is necessarily accompanied 
by drastic changes in the types of skills and personal- 
ities required by the economy. _ 

Specialization increases the number of different 
occupations. At the same time, technological innova- 
tion reduces the life expectancy of any given occupa- 
tion. “The emergence and decline of occupations 


People: The Modular Man 

will be so rapid,” says economist Norman Anon, an 
expert in manpower problems, “that people will al- 
ways be uncertain in them.” The profession of airline 
flight engineer, he notes, emerged and then began 
to die out within a brief period of fifteen years. 

A look at the help wanted” pages of any major 
newspaper brings home the fact that new occupa- 
tions are increasing at a mind-dazzling rate. Systems 
analyst, console operator, coder, tape librarian, tape 
handler, are only a few of those connected with 
computer operations. Information retrieval, optical 
scanning, thin-film technology all require new kinds 
of expertise, while old occupations lose importance or 
vanish altogether. When Fortune magazine in the 
mid-1960s surveyed 1,003 young executives em- 
ployed by major American corporations, it found that 
fully one out of three held a job that simply had not 
existed until he stepped into it. Another large group 
held positions that had been filled by only one in- 
cumbent before them. Even when the name of the 
occupation stays the same, the content of the work is 
frequently transformed, and the people filling the 
jobs change. 

Job turnover, however, is not merely a direct con- 
sequence of technological change. It also reflects the 
mergers and acquisitions that occur as industries 
everywhere frantically organize and reorganize them- 
selves to adapt to the fast-changing environment, to 
keep up with myriad shifts in consumer preferences. 
Many other complex pressures also combine to stir 
the occupational mix incessantly. Thus a recent sur- 
vey by the US Department of Labor revealed that 
the 71,000,000 persons in the American labor force 
had held their current jobs an average of 4.2 years. 
This compared with 4.6 years only three years ear- 
lier-, a decline in duration of nearly 9 percent. 

“Under conditions prevailing at the beginning of 
the 1960’s,” states another Labor Department report 
the average twenty-year-old man in the work force 
could be expected to change jobs about six or seven 



times.” Thus instead of thinking in terms of a “career” 
the citizen of super-industrial society will think in 
terms of “serial careers.” 

Today, for manpower accounting purposes, men 
are classified according to their present jobs. A work- 
er is a “machine operator” or a “sales clerk” or a 
“computer programmer.” This system, bom in a less 
dynamic period, is no longer adequate, according to 
many manpower experts. Efforts are now being made 
to characterize each worker not merely in terms of 
the present job held, but in terms of the particular 
“trajectory” that his career has followed. Each man’s 
trajectory or career line will differ, but certain types 
of trajectories will recur. When asked “What do you 
do P” the super-industrial man will label himself not 
in terms of his present (transient) job, but in terms 
of his trajectory type, the overall pattern of his work 
life. Such labels are more appropriate to the super- 
industrial job market than the static descriptions used 
at present, which take no account of what the indi- 
vidual has done in the past, or of what he may be 
qualified to do in the future. 

The high rate of job turnover now evident in the 
United States is also increasingly characteristic of 
Western European countries. In England, turnover 
in manufacturing industries runs an estimated 30 to 
40 percent per year. In France about 20 percent of the 
total labor force is involved in job changes each year, 
and this figure, according to Monique Viot, is on the 
rise. In Sweden, according to Olof Gustafsson, direc- 
tor of the Swedish Manufacturing Association, “we 
count on an average turnover of 25 to 30 percent per 
year in the labor force . . . Probably the labor turn- 
over in many places now reaches 35 to 40 percent. 

Whether or not the statistically measurable rate of 
job turnover is rising, however, makes little differ- 
ence, for the measurable changes are only part or the 
story. The statistics take no account of changes of job 
within the same company or plant, or shifts from one 
department to another. A. K. Rice of the Tavistock 


People: The Modular Man 

Institute in London asserts that “Transfers from one 
department to another would appear to have the ef- 
fect of the beginning of a new life’ within the fac- 
tory.” The overall statistics on job turnover, by failing 
to take such changes into account, seriously under- 
estimate the amount of shifting around that is ac- 
tually taking place— each shift bringing with it the 
termination of old, and the initiation of new, human 

Any change in job entails a certain amount of stress. 
The individual must strip himself of old habits, old 
ways of coping, and learn new ways of doing things. 
Even when the work task itself is similar, the environ- 
ment in which it takes place is different. And just as 
is the case with moving to a new community, the 
newcomer is under pressure to form new relation- 
ships at high speed. Here, too, the process is acceler- 
ated by people who play the role of informal inte- 
grator. Here, too, the individual seeks out human 
relationships by joining organizations— usually infor- 
mal and clique-like, rather than part of the company’s 
table of organization. Here, too, the knowledge that 
no job is truly “permanent” means that the relation- 
ships formed are conditional, modular and, by most 
definitions, temporary. 


In our discussion of geographical mobility we found 
that some individuals and groups are more mobile 
than others. With respect to occupational mobility, 
too, we find that some individuals or groups make 
more job changes than others. In a very crude sense, 
it is fair to say that people who are geographically 
mobile are quite likely to be occupationally mobile as 
well. Thus we once more find high turnover rates 
among some of the least affluent, least skilled groups 
in society. Exposed to the worst shocks and buffetings 



of an economy that demands educated, increasingly 
skilled workers, the poor bounce from job to job like 
a pinball between bumpers. They are the last hired 
and the first fired. 

Throughout the middle range of education and af- 
fluence, we find people who, while certainly more 
mobile than agricultural populations, are nonetheless, 
relatively stable. And then, just as before, we find 
inordinately high and rising rates of turnover among 
those groups most characteristic of the future— the 
scientists and engineers, the highly educated profes- 
sionals and technicians, the executives and managers. 

Thus a recent study reveals that job turnover rates 
for scientists and engineers in the research and de- 
velopment industry in the United States are approxi- 
mately twice as high as for the rest of American 
industry. The reason is easy to detect. This is precise- 
ly the speartip of technological change— the point at 
which the obsolescence of knowledge is most rapid. 
At Westinghouse, for example, it is believed that the 
so-called “half-life” of a graduate engineer is only ten 
years— meaning that fully one half of what he has 
learned will be outdated within a decade. 

High turnover also characterizes the mass commu- 
nications industries, especially advertising. A recent 
survey of 450 American advertising men found that 
70 percent had changed their jobs within the last two 
years. Reflecting the rapid changes in consumer pref- 
erences, in art and copy styles, and in product lines, 
the same musical chairs game is played in England. 
There the circulation of personnel from one agency 
to another has occasioned cries of alarm within the 
industry, and many agencies refuse to list an em- 
ployee as a regular until he has served for a full year. 

But perhaps the most dramatic change has over- 
taken the ranks of management, once well insulated 
from the jolts of fate that afflicted the less fortunate. 
“For the first time in our history,” says Dr. Harold 
Leavitt, professor of industrial administration and 
psychology, “obsolescence seems to be an imminent 


People: The Modular Man 

problem for management because for the first time, 
the relative advantage of experience over knowledge 
seems to be rapidly decreasing.” Because it takes 
longer to train for modern management and the train- 
ing itself becomes obsolete in a decade or so, as it 
does with engineers, Leavitt suggests that in the fu- 
ture “we may have to start planning careers that 
move downward instead of upward through time . . . 
Perhaps a man should reach his peak of responsi- 
bility very early in his career and then expect to be 
moved downward or outward into simpler, more 
relaxing, kinds of jobs.” 

Whether upward, downward or sideways, the fu- 
ture holds more, not less, turnover in jobs. This real- 
ization is alreadv reflected in the altered attitudes 


of those doing the hiring. “I used to be concerned 
whenever I saw a resume with several jobs in it,” 
admits an official of the Celanese Corporation. “I 
would be afraid that the guy was a job-hopper or an 
opportunist. But I’m not concerned anymore. What I 
want to know is why he made each move. Even five 
or six jobs over twenty years could be a plus ... In 
fact, if I had two equally qualified men, I’d take the 
man who moved a couple of times for valid reasons 
over the man who stayed in the same place. Why? 
I’d know he’s adaptable.” The director of executive 
personnel for International Telephone and Telegraph, 
Dr. Frank McCabe, says: “The more successful you 
are in attracting the comers, the higher your poten- 
tial turnover rate is. The comers are movers.” 

The rising rate of turnover in the executive job 
market follows peculiar patterns of its own. Thus 
Fortune magazine reports: “The defection of a key 
executive starts not only a sequence of job changes 
in its own right but usually a series of collateral 
movements. When the boss moves, he is often flooded 
by requests from his immediate subordinates who 
want to go along; if he doesn’t take them, they im- 
mediately begin to put out other feelers.” No wonder 
a Stanford Research Institute report on the work 



environment of the year 1975 predicts that: “At upper 
white-collar levels, a great amount of turbulence and 
churning about is foreseen . . . the managerial work 
environment will be both unsettled and unsettling.” 

Behind all this job jockeying lies not merely the 
engine of technological innovation, but also the new 
affluence, which opens new opportunities and at the 
same time raises expectations for psychological self- 
fulfillment. “The man who came up thirty years ago,” 
says the vice president of industrial relations for 
Philco, a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company, 
“believed in hanging on to any job until he knew 
where he was going. But men today seem to feel 
there’s another job right down the pike.” And, for 
most, there is. 

Not infrequently the new job involves not merely a 
new employer, a new location, and a new set of work 
associates, but a whole new way of life. Thus the 
“serial career” pattern is evidenced by the growing 
number of people who, once assured of reasonable 
comfort by the affluent economy, decide to make a 
full 180-degree turn in their career line at a time of 
life when others merely look forward to retirement. 
We learn of a real estate lawyer who leaves his firm 
to study social science. An advertising agency copy 
supervisor, after twenty-five years on Madison Av- 
enue, concludes that “The phony glamour became 
stale and boring. I simply had to get away from it.” 
She becomes a librarian. A sales executive in Long 
Island and an engineer in Illinois leave their jobs to 
become manual- training teachers. A top interior dec- 
orator goes back to school and takes a job with the 
poverty program. 


Each job change implies a step-up of the rate at 
which people pass through our lives, and as the rate 
of turnover increases, the duration of relationships 


People: The Modular Man 

declines. This is strikingly manifest in the rise to 
prominence of temporary help services— the human 
equivalent of the rental revolution. In the United 
States today nearly one out of every 100 workers is 
at some time during the year employed by a so- 
called “temporary help service” which, in turn, rents 
him or her out to industry to fill temporary needs. 

Today some 500 temporary help agencies provide 
industry with an estimated 750,000 short-term work- 
ers ranging from secretaries and receptionists, to 
defense engineers. When the Lycoming Division of 
Avco Corporation needed 150 design engineers for 
hurry-up government contracts, it obtained them from 
a number of rental services. Instead of taking months 
to recruit them, it was able to assemble a complete 
staff in short order. Temporary employees have been 
used in political campaigns to man telephones and 
mimeograph machines. They have been called in 
for emergency duty in printing plants, hospitals and 
factories. They have been used in public relations 
activities. (In Orlando, Florida, temporaries were 
hired to give away dollar bills at a shopping center 
in an attempt to win publicity for the center.) More 
prosaically, tens of thousands of them fill routine 
office-work assignments to help the regular staff of 
large companies through peak-load periods. And one 
rental company, the Arthur Treacher Service System, 
advertises that it will rent maids, chauffeurs, butlers, 
cooks, handymen, babysitters, practical nurses, plumb- 
ers, electricians and other home service people. “Like 
Hertz and Avis rent cars” it adds. 

The rental of temporary employees for temporary 
needs is, like the rental of physical objects, spread- 
ing all over the industrialized world. Manpower, 
Incorporated, the largest of the temporary help 
services, opened its operation in France in 1956. Since 
then it has doubled in size each year, and there are 
now some 250 such agencies in France. 

Those employed by temporary help services ex- 
press a variety of reasons for preferring this type of 



work. Says Hoke Hargett, an electromechanical en- 
gineer, “Every job I’m on is a crash job, and when 
the pressure is immense, I work better.” In eight 
years, he has served in eleven different companies, 
meeting and then leaving behind hundreds of co- 
workers. For some skilled personnel organized job- 
hopping actually provides more job security than is 
available to supposedly permanent employees in 
highly volatile industries. In the defense industries 
sudden cut-backs and layoffs are so common, that the 
“permanent” employee is likely to find himself thrown 
on the street without much warning. The temporary 
help engineer simply moves off to another assignment 
when his project is completed. 

More important for most temporary help workers 
is the fact that they can call their own turns. They 
can work very much when and where they wish. 
And for some it is a conscious way to broaden their 
circle of social contacts. One young mother, forced 
to move to a new city when her husband was trans- 
ferred, found herself lonely during the long hours 
when her two children were away at school. Signing 
up with a temporary help service, she has worked 
eight or nine months a year since then and, by shift- 
ing from one company to another, has made contact 
with a large number of people from among whom she 
could select a few as friends. 


Rising rates of occupational turnover and the spread 
of rentalism into employment relationships will fur- 
ther increase the tempo at which human relationships 
are formed and forgotten. This speedup, however, 
affects different groups in society in different ways. 
Thus, in general, working-class individuals tend to 
live closer to, and depend more on their relatives 
than do middle- and upper-class groups. In the words 
of psychiatrist Leonard Duhl, “Their ties of kinship 


People: The Modular Man 

mean more to them, and with less money available 
distance is more of a handicap.” Working-class people 
are generally less adept at the business of coping with 
temporary relationships. They take longer to establish 
ties and are more reluctant to let them go. Not sur- 
prisingly, this is reflected in a greater reluctance to 
move or change jobs. They go when they have to, but 
seldom from choice. 

In contrast, psychiatrist Duhl points out, “The pro- 
fessional, academic and upper-managerial class [in 
the United States] is bound by interest ties across 
wide physical spaces and indeed can be said to have 
more functional relationships. Mobile individuals, eas- 
ily duplicable relationships, and ties to interest prob- 
lems depict this group.” 

What is involved in increasing the through-put of 
people in one’s life are the abilities not only to make 
ties but to break them, not only to affiliate but to dis- 
affiliate. Those who seem most capable of this adap- 
tive skill are also among the most richly rewarded in 
society. Seymour Lipset and Reinhard Bendix in 
Social Mobility in Industrial Society declare that “the 
socially mobile among business leaders show an un- 
usual capacity to break away from those who are 
liabilities and form relationships with those who can 
help them.” 

They support the findings of sociologist Lloyd 
Warner who suggests that “The most important com- 
ponent of the personalities of successful corporate 
managers and owners is that, their deep emotional 
identifications with their families of birth being dis- 
solved, they no longer are closely intermeshed with 
the past, and, therefore, are capable of relating them- 
selves easily to the present and future. They are 
people who have literally and spiritually left home 
. . . They can relate and disrelate themselves to others 

And again, in Big Business Leaders in America, a 
study he conducted with James Abegglen, Warner 
writes: “Before all, these are men on the move. They 



left their homes, and all that this implies. They have 
left behind a standard of living, level of income, and 
style of life to adopt a way of living entirely different 
from that into which they were born. The mobile 
man first of all leaves the physical setting of his birth. 
This includes the house he lived in, the neighborhood 
he knew, and in many cases even the city, state and 
region in which he was born. 

“This physical departure is only a small part of 
the total process of leaving that the mobile man must 
undergo. He must leave behind people as well as 
places. The friends of earlier years must be left, for 
acquaintances of the lower-status past are incom- 
patible with the successful present. Often the church 
of his birth is left, along with the clubs and cliques 
of his family and of his youth. But most important of 
all, and this is the great problem of the man on the 
move, he must, to some degree, leave his father, 
mother, brothers, and sisters, along with the other 
human relationships of his past.” 

This so, it is not so startling to read in a business 
magazine a cooly detached guide for the newly pro- 
moted executive and his wife. It advises that he break 
with old friends and subordinates gradually, in order 
to minimize resentment. He is told to “find logical 
excuses for not joining the group at coffee breaks or 
lunch.” Similarly, “Miss the department bowling or 
card sessions, occasionally at first, then more fre- 
quently.” Invitations to the home of a subordinate 
may be accepted, but not reciprocated, except in the 
form of an invitation to a whole group of subordi- 
nates at once. After a while all such interaction should 

Wives are a special problem, we are informed, 
because they “don’t understand the protocol of office 
organization.” The successful man is advised to be 
patient with his wife, who may adhere to old rela- 
tionships longer than he does. But, as one executive 
puts it, “a wife can be downright dangerous if she 
insists on keeping close friendships with the wives of 


People: The Modular Man 

her husband’s subordinates. Her friendships will rub 
off on him, color his judgment about the people under 
him, jeopardize his job.” Moreover, one personnel 
man points out, ‘When parents drift away from for- 
mer friends, kids go too.” 


These matter-of-fact instructions on how to dis -relate 
send a chill down the spine of those raised on the 
traditional notion that friendships are for the long 
haul. But before accusing the business world of un- 
due ruthlessness, it is important to recognize that pre- 
cisely this pattern is employed, often beneath a veil 
of hypocritical regrets, in other strata of society as 
well. The professor who is promoted to dean, the 
military officer, the engineer who becomes a project 
leader, frequently play the same social game. More- 
over, it is predictable that something like this pattern 
will soon extend far beyond the world of work and 
formal organization. For if friendship is based on 
shared interests or aptitudes, friendship relationships 
are bound to change when interests change— even 
when distinctions of social class are not involved. 
And in a society caught in the throes of the most 
rapid change in history, it would be astonishing if 
the interests of individuals did not also change 

Indeed, much of the social activity of individuals 
today can be described as search behavior— a relent- 
less process of social discovery in which one seeks out 
new friends to replace those who are either no longer 
present or who no longer share the same interests. 
This turnover impels people, and especially educated 
people, toward cities and into temporary employment 
patterns. For the identification of people who share 
the same interests and aptitudes on the basis of which 
friendship may blossom is no simple procedure in a 
society in which specialization grows apace. The in- 



crease in specialization is present not merely in pro- 
fessional and work spheres, but even in leisure time 
pursuits. Seldom has any society offered so wide a 
range of acceptable and readily available leisure time 
activities. The greater the diversity available in both 
work and leisure, the greater the specialization, and 
the more difficult it is to find just the right friends. 

Thus it has been estimated by Professor Sargant 
Florence in Britain that a minimum population of 
1,000,000 is needed to provide a professional worker 
today with twenty interesting friends. The woman 
who sought temporary work as a strategy for finding 
friends was highly intelligent. By increasing the num- 
ber of different people with whom she was thrown 
into work contact, she increased the mathematical 
probability of finding a few who share her interests 
and aptitudes. 

We select our friends out of a very large pool of 
acquaintanceships. A study by Michael Gurevitch 
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology asked a 
varied group to keep track of all the different people 
with whom they came in contact in a one hundred- 
day period. On average, each one listed some 500 
names. Social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who 
has conducted a number of fascinating experiments 
dealing with communication through acquaintance- 
ship networks, speaks of each American having a pool 
of acquaintanceships ranging from 500 to 2,500. 

Actually, however, most people have far fewer 
friends than the twenty suggested by Professor Flor- 
ence, and perhaps his definition was less restrictive 
than that employed in everyday use. A study of 
thirty-nine married middle-class couples in Lincoln, 
Nebraska, asked them to list their friends. The pur- 
pose was to determine whether husbands or wives are 
more influential in selecting friends for the family. 
The study showed that the average couple listed ap- 
proximately seven "friendship units”— such a unit be- 
ing either an individual or a married couple. This 
suggests that the number of individuals listed as 


People: The Modular Man 

friends by the average couple ranged from seven to 
fourteen. Of these, a considerable number were non- 
local, and the fact that wives seemed to list more 
non-local friends than their husbands suggests that 
they are less willing than their husbands to slough 
off a friendship after a move. Men, in short, seem to 
be more skilled at breaking off relationships than 


Today, however, training for disaffiliation or dis- 
relating begins early. Indeed, this may well repre- 
sent one of the major differences between the gener- 
ations. For school children today are exposed to ex- 
tremely high rates of turnover in their classrooms. 
According to the Educational Facilities Laboratories, 
Incorporated, an off-shoot of the Ford Foundation, "It 
is not unusual for city schools to have a turnover of 
more than half their student body in one school year.” 
This phenomenal rate cannot but have some effect on 
the children. 

William Whyte in The Organization Man pointed 
out that the impact of such mobility “is as severe on 
the teachers as on the children themselves, for the 
teachers are thereby robbed of a good bit of the feel- 
ing of achievement they get from watching the chil- 
dren develop.” Today, however, the problem is com- 
pounded by the high rate of turnover among teach- 
ers too. This is true not only in the United States 
but elsewhere as well. Thus a report on England 
asserts: "Today it is not uncommon, even in grammar 
schools, for a child to be taught one subject by two 
or three different teachers in the course of one year. 
With teacher loyalty to the school so low, the loyalty 
of children , cannot be summoned either. If a high 
proportion of teachers are preparing to move on to a 
better job, a better district, there will be less care, 
concern and commitment on their part” We can only 

122 Transience 

speculate about the overall influence of this on the 
lives of the children. 

A recent study of high school students by Harry 
R. Moore of the University of Denver indicated that 
the test scores of children who had moved across 
state or comity lines from one to ten times were not 
substantially different from those of children who had 
not. But there was a definite tendency for the more 
nomadic children to avoid participation in the volun- 
tary side of school life— clubs, sports, student govern- 
ment and other extra-curricular activities. It is as 
though they wished, where possible, to avoid new 
human ties that might only have to be broken again 
before long— as if they wished, in short, to slow down 
the flow-through of people in their lives. 

How fast should children— or adults for that mat- 
ter— be expected to make and break human relation- 
ships? Perhaps there is some optimum rate that we 
exceed at our peril? Nobody knows. However, if to 
this picture of declining durations we add the factor 
of diversity— the recognition that each new human 
relationship requires a different pattern of behavior 
from us— one thing becomes starkly clear: to be able 
to make these increasingly numerous and rapid on-off 
clicks in our interpersonal lives we must be able to 
operate at a level of adaptability never before asked 
of human beings. 

Combine this with the accelerated through-put of 
places and things, as well as people, and we begin 
to glimpse the complexity of the coping behavior that 
we demand of people today. Certainly, the logical 
end of the direction in which we are now traveling is 
a society based on a system of temporary encounters, 
and a distinctly new morality founded on the belief, 
so succinctly expressed by the co-ed in Fort Lauder- 
dale, that “frankly, youll never see these people 
again.” It would be absurd to assume that the future 
holds nothing more than a straight-line projection of 
present trends, that we must necessarily reach that 


People: The Modular Man 

ultimate degree of transience in human relations. But 
it is not absurd to recognize the direction in which 
we are moving. 

Until now most of us have operated on the assump- 
tion that temporary relationships are superficial re- 
lationships, that only long-enduring ties can flower 
into real interpersonal involvement. Perhaps this as- 
sumption is false. Perhaps it is possible for holistic, 
non-modular relationships, to flower rapidly in a high 
transience society. It may prove possible to acceler- 
ate the formation of relationships, and to speed up 
the process of “involvement” as well. In the mean- 
time, however, a haunting question remains: 

“Is Fort Lauderdale the future?” 

We have so far seen that with respect to all three 
of the tangible components of situations— people, 
places and things— the rate of turnover is rising. It 
is time now to look at those intangibles that are 
equally important in shaping experience, the infor- 
mation we use and the organizational frameworks 
within which we live. 

Chapter 7 



One of the most persistent myths about the future 
envisions man as a helpless cog in some vast organi- 
zational machine. In this nightmarish projection, each 
man is frozen into a narrow, unchanging niche in a 
rabbit-warren bureaucracy. The walls of this niche 
squeeze the individuality out of him, smash his per- 
sonality, and compel him, in effect, to conform or 
die. Since organizations appear to be growing larger 
and more powerful all the time, the future, accord- 
ing to this view, threatens to turn us all into that 
most contemptible of creatures, spineless and face- 
less, the organization man. 

It is difficult to overestimate the force with which 
this pessimistic prophecy grips the popular mind, 
especially among young people. Hammered into their 
heads by a stream of movies, plays and books, fed by 
a prestigious line of authors from Kafka and Orwell 
to Whyte, Marcuse and Ellul, the fear of bureauc- 
racy permeates their thought. In the United States 
everyone “knows” that it is just such faceless bureau- 
crats who invent all-digit telephone numbers, who 
send out cards marked “do not fold, spindle or muti- 
late,” who ruthlessly dehumanize students, and whom 
you cannot fight at City Hall. The fear of being swal- 


Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 125 

lowed up by this mechanized beast drives executives 
to orgies of self-examination and students to parox- 
ysms of protest. 

What makes the entire subject so emotional is the 
fact that organization is an inescapable part of all our 
lives. Like his links with things, places and people, 
man’s organizational relationships are basic situation- 
al components. Just as every act in a man’s life oc- 
curs in some definite geographical place, so does it 
also occur in an organizational place, a particular 
location in the invisible geography of human organi- 

Thus, if the orthodox social critics are correct in 
predicting a regimented, super-bureaucratized future, 
we should already be mounting the barricades, 
punching random holes in our IBM cards, taking 
every opportunity to wreck the machinery of organi- 
zation. If, however, we set our conceptual cliches 
aside and turn instead to the facts, we discover that 
bureaucracy, the very system that is supposed to 
crush us all under its weight, is itself groaning with 

The kinds of organizations these critics project un- 
thinkingly into the future are precisely those least 
likely to dominate tomorrow. For we are witnessing 
not the triumph, but the breakdown of bureaucracy. 
We are, in fact, witnessing the arrival of a new or- 
ganizational system that will increasingly challenge, 
and ultimately supplant bureaucracy. This is the 
organization of the future. I call it “Ad-hocracy.” 

Man will encounter plenty of difficulty in adapting 
to this new style organization. But instead of being 
trapped in some unchanging, personality-smashing 
niche, man will find himself liberated, a stranger in 
a new free-form world of kinetic organizations. In 
this alien landscape, his position will be constantly 
changing, fluid, and varied. And his organizational 
ties, like his ties with things, places and people, will 
turn over at a frenetic and ever-accelerating rate. 




Before we can grasp the meaning of this odd term. 
Ad-hocracy, we need to recognize that not all or- 
ganizations are bureaucracies. There are alternative 
ways of organizing people. Bureaucracy, as Max 
Weber pointed out, did not become the dominant 
mode of human organization in the West until the 
arrival of industrialism. 

This is not the place for a detailed description of 
all the characteristics of bureaucracy, but it is im- 
portant for us to note three basic facts. First, in this 
particular system of organization, the individual has 
traditionally occupied a sharply defined slot in a 
division of labor. Second, he fit into a vertical hier- 
archy, a chain of command running from the boss 
down to the lowliest menial. Third, his organizational 
relationships, as Weber emphasized, tended toward 

Each individual, therefore, filled a precisely posi- 
tioned slot, a fixed position in a more or less fixed 
environment. He knew exactly where his department 
ended and the next began; the lines between organi- 
zations and their sub-structures were anchored firm- 
ly in place. In joining an organization, the individual 
accepted a set of fixed obligations in return for a 
specified set of rewards. These obligations and re- 
wards remained the same over relatively long spans 
of time. The individual thus stepped into a compara- 
tively permanent web of relationships— not merely 
with other people (who also tended to remain in their 
slots for a long time)— but with the organizational 
framework, the structure, itself. 

Some of these structures are more durable than 
others. The Catholic Church is a steel frame that has 
lasted for 2000 years, with some of its internal sub- 
structures virtually unchanged for centuries at a time. 
In contrast, the Nazi Party of Germany managed to 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 127 

bathe Europe in blood, yet it existed as a formal or- 
ganization for less than a quarter of a century. 

In turn, just as organizations endure for longer or 
shorter periods, so, too, does an individual’s relation- 
ship with any specific organizational structure. Thus 
man’s tie to a particular department, division, polit- 
ical party, regiment, club, or other such unit has a 
beginning and an end in time. The same is true of 
his membership in informal organizations— cliques, 
factions, coffee-break groups and the like. His tie 
begins when he assumes the obligations of member- 
ship by joining or being conscripted into an organi- 
zation. His tie ends when he quits or is discharged 
from it— or when the organization, itself, ceases to be. 

This is what happens, of course, when an organiza- 
tion disbands formally. It happens when the members 
simply lose interest and stop coming around. But the 
organization can “cease to be” in another sense, too. 
An organization, after all, is nothing more than a 
collection of human objectives, expectations, and ob- 
ligations. It is, in other words, a structure of roles 
filled by humans. And when a reorganization sharply 
alters this structure by redefining or redistributing 
these roles, we can say that the old organization has 
died and a new one has sprung up to take its place. 
This is true even if it retains the old name and has 
the same members as before. The rearrangement of 
roles creates a new structure exactly as the rear- 
rangement of mobile walls in a building converts it 
into a new structure. 

A relationship between a person and an organiza- 
tion, therefore, is broken either by his departure from 
it, or by its dissolution, or by its transformation 
through reorganization. When the latter— reorganiza- 
tion— happens, the individual, in effect, severs his 
links with the old, familiar, but now no longer extant 
structure, and assumes a relationship to the new one 
that supersedes it. 

Today there is mounting evidence that the duration 
of man’s organizational relationships is shrinking, that 



these relationships are turning over at a faster and 
faster rate. And we shall see that several powerful 
forces, including this seemingly simple fact, doom 
bureaucracy to destruction. 


There was a time when a table of organization— some- 
times familiarly known as a “T/O”— showed a neatly 
arrayed series of boxes, each indicating an officer and 
the organizational sub-units for which he was respon- 
sible. Every bureaucracy of any size, whether a corpo- 
ration, a university or a government agency, had its 
own T/O, providing its managers with a detailed map 
of the organizational geography. Once drawn, such a 
map became a fixed part of the organization’s rule 
book, remaining in use for years at a time. Today, 
organizational lines are changing so frequently that a 
three-month-old table is often regarded as an historic 
artifact, something like the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

Organizations now change their internal shape with 
a frequency— and sometime a rashness— that makes 
the head swim. Titles change from week to week. 
Jobs are transformed. Responsibilities shift. Vast or- 
ganizational structures are taken apart, bolted to- 
gether again in new forms, then rearranged again. 
Departments and divisions spring up overnight only 
to vanish in another, and yet another, reorganization. 

In part, this frenzied reshuffling arises from the tide 
of mergers and “de-mergers” now sweeping through 
industry in the United States and Western Europe. 
The late sixties saw a tremendous rolling wave of 
acquisitions, the growth of giant conglomerates and 
diversified corporate monsters. The seventies may wit- 
ness an equally powerful wave of divestitures and, 
later, reacquisitions, as companies attempt to consoli- 
date and digest their new subsidiaries, then trade off 
troublesome components. Between 1967 and 1969 the 
Questor Corporation (formerly Dunhill International, 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 129 

Incorporated) bought eight companies and sold off 
five. Scores of other corporations have similar stories 
to tell. According to management consultant Alan J. 
Zakon, “there will be a great deal more spinning off of 
pieces.” As the consumer marketplace chums and 
changes, companies will be forced constantly to repo- 
sition themselves in it. 

Internal reorganizations almost inevitably follow 
such corporate swaps, but they may arise for a variety 
of other reasons as well. Within a recent three-year 
period fully sixty-six of the 100 largest industrial com- 
panies in the United States publicly reported major 
organizational shake-ups. Actually, this was only the 
visible tip of the proverbial iceberg. Many more reor- 
ganizations occur than are ever reported. Most com- 
panies try to avoid publicity when overhauling their 
organization. Moreover, constant small and partial 
reorganizations occur at the departmental or divisional 
level or below, and are regarded as too small or unim- 
portant to report. 

“My own observation as a consultant,” says D. R. 
Daniel, an official of McKinsey & Company, a large 
management consulting firm, “is that one major re- 
structuring every two years is probably a conservative 
estimate of the current rate of organizational change 
among the largest industrial corporations. Our firm 
has conducted over 200 organization studies for do- 
mestic corporate clients in the past year, and organiza- 
tion problems are an even larger part of our practice 
outside the United States.” What’s more, he adds, 
there are no signs of a leveling off. If anything, the 
frequency of organizational upheavals is increasing. 

These changes, moreover, are increasingly far-reach- 
ing in power and scope. Says Professor L. E. Greiner 
of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Admin- 
istration: “Whereas only a few years ago the target of 
organization change was limited to a small work group 
or a single department . . . the focus is now converg- 
ing on the organization as a whole, reaching out to 
include many divisions and levels at once, and even 



the top managers themselves.” He refers to "revolu- 
tionary attempts” to transform organization “at all 
levels of management.” 

If the once-fixed table of organization won’t hold 
still in industry, much the same is increasingly true of 
the great government agencies as well. There is scarce- 
ly an important department or ministry in the gov- 
ernments of the technological nations that has not 
undergone successive organizational change in recent 
years. In the United States during the forty-year span 
from 1913 to 1953, despite depression, war and other 
social upheavals, not a single new cabinet-level de- 
partment was added to the government. Yet in 1953 
Congress created the Department of Health, Educa- 
tion and Welfare. In 1965 it established the Depart- 
ment of Housing and Urban Development. In 1967 it 
set up the Department of Transportation (thus con- 
solidating activities formerly carried out in thirty 
different agencies,) and, at about the same time, the 
President called for a merger of the departments of 
Labor and Commerce. 

Such changes within the structure of government 
are only the most conspicuous, for organizational 
tremors are similarly felt in all the agencies down 
below. Indeed, internal redesign has become a byword 
in Washington. In 1965 when John Gardner became 
Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, a top-to- 
bottom reorganization shook that department. Agen- 
cies, bureaus and offices were realigned at a rate that 
left veteran employees in a state of mental exhaustion. 
(During the height of this reshuffling, one official, 
who happens to be a friend of mine, used to leave a 
note behind for her husband each morning when she 
left for work. The note consisted of her telephone 
number for that day. So rapid were the changes that 
she could not keep a telephone number long enough 
for it to be listed in the departmental directory. ) Mr. 
Gardner’s successors continued tinkering with organi- 
zation, and by 1969, Robert Finch, after eleven months 
in office, was pressing for yet another major overhaul, 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 131 

having concluded in the meantime that the depart- 
ment was virtually unmanageable in the form in which 
he found it. 

In Self -Renewal, an influential little book written 
before he entered the government, Gardner asserted 
that: “The farsighted administrator . . . reorganizes 
to break down calcified organizational lines. He shifts 
personnel ... He redefines jobs to break them out of 
rigid categories.” Elsewhere Gardner referred to the 
“crises of organization” in government and suggested 
that, in both the public and private sectors, “Most 
organizations have a structure that was designed to 
solve problems that no longer exist.” The “self-renew- 
ing” organization, he defined as one that constantly 
changes its structure in response to changing needs. 

Gardner’s message amounts to a call for permanent 
revolution in organizational life, and more and more 
sophisticated managers are recognizing that in a world 
of accelerating change reorganization is, and must be, 
an on-going process, rather than a traumatic once-in- 
a-lifetime affair. This recognition is spreading outside 
the corporations and government agencies as well. 
Thus The New York Times, on the same day that it 
reports on proposed mergers in the plastics, plywood 
and paper industries, describes a major administrative 
upheaval at the British Broadcasting Corporation, a 
thorough renovation of the structure of Columbia Uni- 
versity, and even a complete reorganization of that 
most conservative of institutions, the Metropolitan 
Museum of Art in New York. What is involved in all 
this activity is not a casual tendency but a historic 
movement. Organizational change— self-renewal, as 
Gardner puts it— is a necessary, an unavoidable re- 
sponse to the acceleration of change. 

For the individual within these organizations, 
change creates a wholly new climate and a new set 
of problems. The turnover of organizational designs 
means that the individual’s relationship to any one 
structure (with its implied set of obligations and re- 
wards) is truncated, shortened in time. With each 



change, he must reorient himself. Today the average 
individual is frequently reassigned, shuffled about 
from one sub-structure to another. But even if he 
remains in the same department, he often finds that 
the department, itself, has been shifted on some fast- 
changing table of organization, so that his position in 
the overall maze is no longer the same. 

The result is that mans organizational relationships 
today tend to change at a faster pace than ever before. 
The average relationship is less permanent, more 
temporary, than ever before. 


The high rate of turnover is most dramatically sym- 
bolized by the rapid rise of what executives call 
“project” or “task-force” management. Here teams are 
assembled to solve specific short-term problems. Then, 
exactly like the mobile playgrounds, they are disas- 
sembled and their human components reassigned. 
Sometimes these teams are thrown together to serve 
only for a few days. Sometimes they are intended to 
last a few years. But unlike the functional depart- 
ments or divisions of a traditional bureaucratic orga- 
nization, which are presumed to be permanent, the 
project or task-force team is temporary by design. 

When Lockheed Aircraft Corporation won a con- 
troversial contract to build fifty-eight giant C-5A 
military air transports, it created a whole new 11,000- 
man organization specifically for that purpose. To 
complete the multi-billion-dollar job, Lockheed had 
to coordinate the work not only of its own people, but 
of hundreds of subcontracting firms. In all, 6000 
companies are involved in producing the more than 
120,000 parts needed for each of these enormous air- 
planes. The Lockheed project organization created 
for this purpose has its own management and its own 
complex internal structure. 

The first of the C-5A’s rolled out of the shop exactly 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 133 

on schedule in March, 1969, twenty-nine months after 
award of the contract. The last of the fifty-eight trans- 
ports was due to be delivered two years later. This 
meant that the entire imposing organization created 
for this job had a planned life span of five years. 
What we see here is nothing less than the creation of 
a disposable division— the organizational equivalent 
of paper dresses or throw-away tissues. 

Project organization is widespread in the aerospace 
industries. When a leading manufacturer set out to win 
a certain large contract from the National Aeronautics 
and Space Agency, it assembled a team of approxi- 
mately one hundred people borrowed from various 
functional divisions of the company. The project team 
worked for about a year and a half to gather data and 
analyze the job even before the government formally 
requested bids. When the time came to prepare a 
formal bid— a ‘proposal,” as it is known in the industry 
—the “pre-proposal project team” was dissolved and 
its members sent back to their functional divisions. A 
new team was brought into being to write the actual 

Proposal-writing teams often work together for a 
few weeks. Once the proposal is submitted, however, 
the proposal team is also disbanded. When the con- 
tract is won (if it is), new teams are successively 
established for development, and, ultimately, produc- 
tion of the goods required. Some individuals may move 
along with the job, joining each successive project 
team. Typically, however, people are brought in to 
work on only one or a few stages of the job. 

While this form of organization is widely identified 
with aerospace companies, it is increasingly employed 
in more traditional industries as well. It is used when 
the task to be accomplished is non-routine, when it is, 
in effect, a one-time proposition. 

“In just a few years,” says Business Week, “the 
project manager has become commonplace.” Indeed, 
project management has, itself, become recognized as 
a specialized executive art, and there is a small, but 



growing band of managers, both in the United States 
and Europe, who move from project to project, com- 
pany to company, never settling down to run routine 
or long-term operations. Books on project and task- 
force management are beginning to appear. And the 
United States Air Force Systems Command at Dayton, 
Ohio, runs a school to train executives for project 

Task forces and other ad hoc groups are now pro- 
liferating throughout the government and business 
bureaucracies, both in the United States and abroad. 
Transient teams, whose members come together to 
solve a specific problem and then separate, are par- 
ticularly characteristic of science and help account 
for the kinetic quality of the scientific community. Its 
members are constantly on the move, organizationally, 
if not geographically. 

George Kozmetsky, co-founder of Teledyne, Incor- 
porated, and now dean of the school of business at 
the University of Texas, distinguishes between “rou- 
tine” and “non-routine” organizations. The latter grap- 
ple most frequently with one-of-a-kind problems. He 
cites statistics to show that the non-routine sector, in 
which he brackets government and many of the ad- 
vanced technology companies, is growing so fast that 
it will employ 65 percent of the total United States 
work force by the year 2001. Organizations in this 
sector are precisely the ones that rely most heavily on 
transient teams and task forces. 

Clearly, there is nothing new about the idea of 
assembling a group to work toward the solution of a 
specific problem, then dismantling it when the task 
is completed. What is new is the frequency with which 
organizations must resort to such temporary arrange- 
ments. The seemingly permanent structures of many 
large organizations, often because they resist change, 
are now heavily infiltrated with these transient cells. 

On the surface, the rise of temporary organization 
may seem insignificant. Yet this mode of operation 
plays havoc with the traditional conception of orgam- 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 135 

zation as consisting of more or less permanent struc- 
tures. Throw-away organizations, ad hoc teams or 
committees, do not necessarily replace permanent 
functional structures, but they change them beyond 
recognition, draining them of both people and power. 
Today while functional divisions continue to exist, 
more and more project teams, task forces and similar 
organizational structures spring up in their midst, then 
disappear. And people, instead of filling fixed slots in 
the functional organization, move back and forth at a 
high rate of speed. They often retain their functional 
“home base” but are detached repeatedly to serve as 
temporary team members. 

We shall shortly see that this process, repeated often 
enough, alters the loyalties of the people involved; 
shakes up lines of authority; and accelerates the rate 
at which individuals are forced to adapt to organiza- 
tional change. For the moment, however, it is impor- 
tant to recognize that the rise of ad hoc organization 
is a direct effect of the speed-up of change in society 
as a whole. 

So long as a society is relatively stable and un- 
changing, the problems it presents to men tend to be 
routine and predictable. Organizations in such an 
environment can be relatively permanent. But when 
change is accelerated, more and more novel first-time 
problems arise, and traditional forms of organization 
prove inadequate to the new conditions. They can no 
longer cope. As long as this is so, says Dr. Donald A. 
Schon, president of the Organization for Social and 
Technical Innovation, we need to create “self-destroy- 
ing organizations . . . lots of autonomous, semi-at- 
tached units which can be spun off, destroyed, sold 
bye-bye, when the need for them has disappeared.” 

Traditional functional organization structures, cre- 
ated to meet predictable, non-novel conditions, prove 
incapable of responding effectively to radical changes 
in the environment. Thus temporary role structures are 
created as the whole organization struggles to preserve 



itself and keep growing. The process is exactly anal- 
ogous to the trend toward modularism in architecture. 
We earlier defined modularism as the attempt to lend 
greater durability to a whole structure by shortening 
the life span of its components. This applies to organi- 
zation as well, and it helps explain the rise of short- 
lived or throw-away, organization components. 

As acceleration continues, organizational redesign 
becomes a continuing function. According to man- 
agement consultant Bernard Muller-Thym, the new 
technology, combined with advanced management 
techniques, creates a totally new situation. “What is 
now within our grasp,” he says, “is a kind of produc- 
tive capability that is alive with intelligence, alive 
with information, so that at its maximum it is com- 
pletely flexible; one could completely reorganize the 
plant from hour to hour if one wished to do so.” And 
what is true of the plant is increasingly true of the 
organization as a whole. 

In short, the organizational geography of super- 
industrial society can be expected to become increas- 
ingly kinetic, filled with turbulence and change. The 
more rapidly the environment changes, the shorter 
the life span of organization forms. In administrative 
structure, just as in architectural structure, we are 
moving from long-enduring to temporary forms, from 
permanence to transience. We are moving from bu- 
reaucracy to Ad-hocracy. 

In this way, the accelerative thrust translates itself 
into organization. Permanence, one of the identifying 
characteristics of bureaucracy, is undermined, and we 
are driven to a relentless conclusion: man’s ties with 
the invisible geography of organization turn over 
more and more rapidly, exactly as do his relationships 
with things, places, and the human beings who people 
these ever-changing organizational structures. Just as 
the new nomads migrate from place to place, man 
increasingly migrates from organizational structure to 
organizational structure. 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 137 


Something else is happening, too: a revolutionary shift 
in power relationships. Not only are large organiza- 
tions forced both to change their internal structure 
and to create temporary units, but they are also find- 
ing it increasingly difficult to maintain their tradi- 
tional chains-of-command. 

It would be pollyannish to suggest that workers in 
industry or government today truly “participate” in 
the management of their enterprises— either in capital- 
ist or, for that matter, in socialist and communist 
countries. Yet there is evidence that bureaucratic 
hierarchies, separating those who “make decisions” 
from those who merely carry them out, are being 
altered, side-stepped or broken. 

This process is noticeable in industry where, ac- 
cording to Professor William H. Read of the Graduate 
School of Business at McGill University, “irresistible 
pressures” are battering hierarchical arrangements. 
“The central, crucial and important business of orga- 
nizations,” he declares, “is increasingly shifting from 
up and down to ‘sideways.’ ” What is involved in such 
a shift is a virtual revolution in organizational struc- 
ture— and human relations. For people communicating 
“sideways”— i.e., to others at approximately the same 
level of organization— behave differently, operate un- 
der very different pressures, than those who must 
communicate up and down a hierarchy. 

To illustrate, let us look at a typical work setting in 
which a traditional bureaucratic hierarchy operates. 
While still a young man I worked for a couple of years 
as a millwright’s helper in a foundry. Here, in a great 
dark cavern of a building, thousands of men labored 
to produce automobile crankcase castings. The scene 
was Dantesque— smoke and soot smeared our faces, 
black dirt covered the floors and filled the air, the 
pungent, choking smell of sulphur and burnt sand 



seared our nostrils. Overhead a creaking conveyor 
carried red hot castings and dripped hot sand on the 
men below. There were flashes of molten iron, the 
yellow flares of fires, and a lunatic cacophony of 
noises: men shouting, chains rattling, pug mills ham- 
mering, compressed air shrieking. 

To a stranger the scene appeared chaotic. But those 
inside knew that everything was carefully organized. 
Bureaucratic order prevailed. Men did the same job 
over and over again. Rules governed every situation. 
And each man knew exactly where he stood in a 
vertical hierarchy that reached from the lowest-paid 
core paster up to the unseen “they” who populated 
the executive suites in another building. 

Jn the immense shed where we worked, something 
was always going wrong. A bearing would bum out, a 
belt snap or a gear break. Whenever this happened 
in a section, work would screech to a halt, and frantic 
messages would begin to flow up and down the hier- 
archy. The worker nearest the breakdown would noti- 
fy his foreman. He, in turn, would tell the production 
supervisor. The production supervisor would send 
word to the maintenance supervisor. The maintenance 
supervisor would dispatch a crew to repair the dam- 

information in this system is passed by the worker 
“upward” through the foreman to the production 
supervisor. The production supervisor carries it side- 
ways” to a man occupying a niche at approximately 
the same level in the hierarchy (the maintenance 
supervisor), who, in turn, passes it downward to the 
millwrights who actually get things going again. Ihe 
information thus must move a total of four steps up 
and down the vertical ladder plus one step sideways 

before repairs can begin. 

This system is premised on the unspoken assumption 
that the dirty, sweaty men down below cannot make 
sound decisions. Only those higher in the hierarchy are 
to be trusted with judgment or discretion. Oifacials at 
the top make the decisions; men at the bottom carry 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 139 

them out. One group represents the brains of the orga- 
nization; the other, the hands. 

This typically bureaucratic arrangement is ideally 
suited to solving routine problems at a moderate pace. 
But when things speed up, or the problems cease to 
be routine, chaos often breaks loose. It is easy to see 

First, the acceleration of the pace of life (and es- 
pecially the speed-up of production brought about by 
automation) means that every minute of "down time” 
costs more in lost output than ever before. Delay is 
increasingly costly. Information must flow faster than 
ever before. At the same time, rapid change, by in- 
creasing the number of novel, unexpected problems, 
increases the amount of information needed. It takes 
more information to cope with a novel problem than 
one we have solved a dozen or a hundred times before. 
It is this combined demand for more information 
at faster speeds that is now undermining the great 
vertical hierarchies so typical of bureaucracy. 

A radical speed-up could have been effected in the 
foundry described above simply by allowing the 
worker to report the breakdown directly to the mainte- 
nance supervisor or even to a maintenance crew, 
instead of passing the news along through his foreman 
and production supervisor. At least one and perhaps 
two steps could have been cut from the four-step 
communication process in this way— a saving of from 
25 to 50 percent. Significantly, the steps that might 
be eliminated are the up-and-down steps, the vertical 

Today such savings are feverishly sought by man- 
agers fighting to keep up with change. Shortcuts that 
by-pass the hierarchy are increasingly employed in 
thousands of factories, offices, laboratories, even in 
the military. The cumulative result of such small 
changes is a massive shift from vertical to lateral com- 
munication systems. The intended result is speedier 
communication. This leveling process, however, rep- 
resents a major blow to the once-sacred bureaucratic 



hierarchy, and it punches a jagged hole in the “brain 
and hand” analogy. For as the vertical chain of com- 
mand is increasingly by-passed, we find “hands” 
beginning to make decisions, too. When the worker 
by-passes his foreman or supervisor and calls in a 
repair team, he makes a decision that in the past was 
reserved for these “higher ups.” 

This silent but significant deterioration of hierarchy, 
now occurring in the executive suite as well as at the 
ground level of the factory floor, is intensified by the 
arrival on the scene of hordes of experts— specialists 
in vital fields so narrow that often the men on top 
have difficulty understanding them. Increasingly, man- 
agers have to rely on the judgment of these experts. 
Solid state physicists, computer programmers, systems 
designers, operation researchers, engineering special- 
ists— such men are assuming a new decision-making 
function. At one time, they merely consulted with 
executives who reserved unto themselves the right to 
make managerial decisions. Today, the managers are 
losing their monopoly on decision-making. 

More and more, says Professor Read of McGill, the 
“specialists do not fit neatly together into a chain-of- 
command system” and “cannot wait for their expert 
advice to be approved at a higher level.” With no time 
for decisions to wend their leisurely way up and down 
the hierarchy, “advisors” stop merely advising and 
begin to make decisions themselves. Often they do 
this in direct consultation with the workers and 
ground-level technicians. 

As a result, says Frank Metzger, director of person- 
nel planning for International Telephone and Tele- 
graph Corporation, “You no longer have the strict 
allegiance to hierarchy. You may have five or six 
different levels of the hierarchy represented in one 
meeting. You try to forget about salary level and 
hierarchy, and organize to get the job done.” 

Such facts, according to Professor Read, “repre- 
sent a staggering change in thinking, action, and 
decision-making in organizations.” Quite possibly, he 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 141 

declares, “the only truly effective methods for pre- 
venting, or coping with, problems of coordination 
and communication in our changing technology will 
be found in new arrangements of people and tasks, in 
arrangements which sharply break with the bureau- 
cratic tradition.” 

It will be a long time before the last bureaucratic 
hierarchy is obliterated. For bureaucracies are well 
suited to tasks that require masses of moderately edu- 
cated men to perform routine operations, and, no 
doubt, some such operations will continue to be per- 
formed by men in the future. Yet it is precisely such 
tasks that the computer and automated equipment do 
far better than men. It is clear that in super-industrial 
society many such tasks will be performed by great 
self-regulating systems of machines, doing away with 
the need for bureaucratic organization. Far from fas- 
tening the grip of bureaucracy on civilization more 
tightly than before, automation leads to its overthrow. 

As machines take over routine tasks and the accel- 
erative thrust increases the amount of novelty in the 
environment, more and more of the energy of society 
( and its organizations ) must turn toward the solution 
of non-routine problems. This requires a degree of 
imagination and creativity that bureaucracy, with its 
man-in-a-slot organization, its permanent structures, 
and its hierarchies, is not well equipped to provide. 
Thus it is not surprising to find that wherever organi- 
zations today are caught up in the stream of tech- 
nological or social change, wherever research and 
development is important, wherever men must cope 
with first-time problems, the decline of bureaucratic 
forms is most pronounced. In these frontier organiza- 
tions a new system of human relations is springing up. 

To live, organizations must cast off those bureau- 
cratic practices that immobilize them, making them 
less sensitive and less rapidly responsive to change. 
The result, according to Joseph A. Raffaele, Professor 
of Economics at Drexel Institute of Technology, is 
that we are moving toward a “working society of 



technical co-equals” in which the ‘line of demarcation 
between the leader and the led has become fuzzy.” 
Super-industrial Man, rather than occupying a per- 
manent, cleanly-defined slot and performing mindless 
routine tasks in response to orders from above, finds 
increasingly that he must' assume decision-making 
responsibility— and must do so within a kaleidoscopic- 
ally changing organization structure built upon highly 
transient human relationships. Whatever else might 
be said, this is not the old, familiar Weberian bureauc- 
racy at which so many of our novelists and social 
critics are still, belatedly, hurling their rusty javelins. 


If it was Max Weber who first defined bureaucracy 
and predicted its triumph, Warren Bennis may go 
down in sociological textbooks as the man who first 
convincingly predicted its demise and sketched the 
outlines of the organizations that are springing up to 
replace it. At precisely the moment when the outcry 
against bureaucracy was reaching its peak of shrillness 
on American campuses and elsewhere, Bennis, a social 
psychologist and professor of industrial management, 
predicted flatly that “in the next twenty-five to fifty 
years” we will all “participate in the end of bureauc- 
racy.” He urged us to begin looking “beyond bureauc- 

Thus Bennis argues that “while various proponents 
of ‘good human relations’ have been fighting bureauc- 
racy on humanistic grounds and for Christian values, 
bureaucracy seems most likely to founder on its in- 
ability to adapt to rapid change . . . 

“Bureaucracy,” he says, “thrives in a highly compet- 
itive undifferentiated and stable environment, such 
as the climate of its youth, the Industrial Revolution. 
A pyramidal structure of authority, with power con- 
centrated in the hands of a few . . . was, and is, an 
eminently suitable social arrangement for routinized 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 143 

tasks. However, the environment has changed in just 
those ways which make the mechanism most problem- 
atic. Stability has vanished.” 

Each age produces a form of organization appropri- 
ate to its own tempo. During the long epoch of 
agricultural civilization, societies were marked by low 
transience. Delays in communication and transporta- 
tion slowed the rate at which information moved. The 
pace of individual life was comparatively slow. And 
organizations were seldom called upon to make what 
we would regard as high-speed decisions. 

The age of industrialism brought a quickened tempo 
to both individual and organizational life. Indeed, it 
was precisely for this reason that bureaucratic forms 
were needed. For all that they seem lumbering and 
inefficient to us, they were, on the average, capable 
of making better decisions faster than the loose and 
ramshackle organizations that preceded them. With 
all the rules codified, with a set of fixed principles 
indicating how to deal with various work problems, 
the flow of decisions could be accelerated to keep up 
with the faster pace of life brought by industrialism. 

Weber was keen enough to notice this, and he 
pointed out that “The extraordinary increase in the 
speed by which public announcements, as well as 
economic and political facts are transmitted exerts a 
steady and sharp pressure in the direction of speeding 
up the tempo of administrative reaction . . .” He was 
mistaken, however, when he said “The optimum of 
such reaction time is normally attained only by a 
strictly bureaucratic organization.” For it is now clear 
that the acceleration of change has reached so rapid a 
pace that even bureaucracy can no longer keep up. 
Information surges through society so rapidly, drastic 
changes in technology come so quickly that newer, 
even more instantly responsive forms of organization 
must characterize the future. 

What, then, will be the characteristics of the organi- 
zations of super-industrial society? “The key word,” 
says Bennis, “will be ‘temporary’; there will be adap- 



tive, rapidly changing temporary systems Problems 
will be solved by task forces composed of “relative 
strangers who represent a set of diverse professional 

Executives and managers in this system will func- 
tion as coordinators between the various transient 
work teams. They will be skilled in understanding the 
jargon of different groups of specialists, and they will 
communicate across groups, translating and inter- 
preting the language of one into the language of 
another. People in this system will, according to 
Bennis, “be differentiated not vertically, according to 
rank and role, but flexibly and functionally, accord- 
ing to skill and professional training.” 

Because of the high rate of movement back and 
forth from one transient team to another, he con- 
tinues, “There will ... be a reduced commitment to 
work groups . . . While skills in human interaction 
will become more important, due to the growing needs 
for collaboration in complex tasks, there will be a 
concomitant reduction in group cohesiveness . . . 
People will have to learn to develop quick and intense 
relationships on the job, and learn to bear the loss of 
more enduring work relationships.” 

This then is a picture of the coming Ad-hocracy, the 
fast-moving, information-rich, kinetic organization of 
the future, filled with transient cells and extremely 
mobile individuals. From this sketch, moreover, it is 
possible to deduce some of the characteristics of the 
human beings who will populate these new organiza- 
tions— and who, to some extent, are already to be 
found in the prototype organizations of today. What 
emerges is dramatically different from the stereotype 
of the organization man. For just as the acceleration 
of change and increased novelty in the environment 
demand a new form of organization, they demand, 
too, a new kind of man. 

Three of the outstanding characteristics of bureauc- 
racy were, as we have seen, permanence, hierarchy. 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 145 

and a division of labor. These characteristics molded 
the human beings who manned the organizations. 

Permanence— the recognition that the link between 
man and organization would endure through time- 
brought with it a commitment to the organization. 
The longer the man stayed within its embrace, the 
more he saw his past as an investment in the organiza- 
tion, the more he saw his personal future as dependent 
upon that of the organization. Longevity bred loyalty. 
In work organizations, this natural tendency was pow- 
erfully reinforced by the knowledge that termination 
of one’s links with the organization very often meant a 
loss of the means of economic survival. In a world 
wracked by scarcity for the many, a job was precious. 
The bureaucrat was thus immobile and deeply ori- 
ented toward economic security. To keep his job, he 
willingly subordinated his own interests and convic- 
tions to those of the organization. 

Power-laden hierarchies, through which authority 
flowed, wielded the whip by which the individual was 
held in line. Knowing that his relationship with the 
organization would be relatively permanent (or at 
least hoping that it would be) the organization man 
looked within for approval. Rewards and punishments 
came down the hierarchy to the individual, so that the 
individual, habitually looking upward at the next 
rung of the hierarchical ladder, became conditioned 
to subservience. Thus: the wishy-washy organization 
man— the man without personal convictions (or with- 
out the courage to make them evident). It paid to 

Finally, the organization man needed to understand 
his place in the scheme of things; he occupied a well- 
defined niche, performed actions that were also well- 
defined by the rules of the organization, and he was 
judged by the precision with which he followed the 
book. Faced by relatively routine problems, he was 
encouraged to seek routine answers. Unorthodoxy, 
creativity, venturesomeness were discouraged, for they 



interfered with the predictability required by the 
organization of its component parts. 

The embryonic Ad-hocracies of today demand a 
radically different constellation of human character- 
istics. In place of permanence, we find transience- 
high mobility between organizations, never-ending 
reorganizations within them, and a constant generation 
and decay of temporary work groupings. Not surpris- 
ingly, we witness a decline in old-fashioned “loyalty” 
to the organization and its sub-structures. 

Writing about young executives in American indus- 
try today, Walter Guzzardi, Jr., declares: “The agree- 
ments between modern man and modem organization 
are not like the laws of the Medes and the Persians. 
They were not made to stand forever . . . The man 
periodically examines his own attitude toward the 
organization, and gauges its attitude toward him. If 
he doesn’t like what he sees, he tries to change it. 
If he can’t change it, he moves.” Says executive re- 
cruiter George Peck: “The number of top executives 
with their resumes in their desk drawer is amazing.” 

The old loyalty felt by the organization man ap- 
pears to be going up in smoke. In its place we are 
watching the rise of professional loyalty. In all of the 
techno-societies there is a relentless increase in the 
number of professional, technical and other specialists. 
In the United States between 1950 and 1969 alone, 
their number has more than doubled and this class 
continues to grow more rapidly than any other group 
in the work force. Instead of operating as individual, 
entrepreneurial free lancers, millions of engineers, 
scientists, psychologists, accountants and other profes- 
sionals have entered the ranks of organization. What 
has happened as a result is a neat dialectical reversal. 
Veblen wrote about the industrialization of the pro- 
fessional. Today we are observing the professionaliza- 
tion of industry. 

Thus John Gardner declares: “The loyalty of the 
professional man is to his profession and not to the 
organization that may house him at any given moment. 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 147 

Compare the chemist or electronics engineer in a local 
plant with the non-professional executives in the same 
plant. The men the chemist thinks of as his colleagues 
are not those who occupy neighboring offices, but his 
fellow professionals wherever they may be throughout 
the country, even throughout the world. Because of 
his fraternal ties with widely dispersed contempo- 
raries, he himself is highly mobile. But even if he 
stays in one place his loyalty to the local organization 
is rarely of the same quality as that of the true organi- 
zation man. He never quite believes in it. 

“The rise of the professions means that modem 
large-scale organization has been heavily infiltrated 
by men who have an entirely different concept of 
what organization is about . . .” In effect, these men 
are “outsiders” working within the system. 

At the same time, the term “profession” is itself 
taking on new meaning. Just as the vertical hierarchies 
of bureaucracy break down under the combined im- 
pact of new technology, new knowledge, and social 
change, so too, do the horizontal hierarchies that have 
until now divided human knowledge. The old bound- 
aries between specialties are collapsing. Men increas- 
ingly find that the novel problems thrust at them can 
be solved only by reaching beyond narrow disciplines. 

The traditional bureaucrat put electrical engineers 
in one compartment and psychologists in another. In- 
deed, engineers and psychologists in their own pro- 
fessional organizations assumed an airtight distinction 
between their spheres of knowledge and competence. 
Today, however, in the aerospace industry, in educa- 
tion, and in other fields, engineers and psychologists 
are frequently thrown together in transient teams. New 
organizations reflecting these sometimes exotic intel- 
lectual mergers are springing up all around the basic 
professions, so that we begin to find sub-groupings of 
bio-mathematicians, psycho-pharmacologists, engineer- 
librarians and computer-musicians. Distinctions be- 
tween the disciplines do not disappear; but they 

148 Transience 

become finer, more porous, and there is a constant 
reshuffling process. 

In this situation, even professional loyalties turn 
into short-term commitments, and the work itself, the 
task to be done, the problem to be solved, begins to 
elicit the kind of commitment hitherto reserved for 
the organization. Professional specialists, according to 
Bennis, “seemingly derive their rewards from inward 
standards of excellence, from their professional socie- 
ties, and from the intrinsic satisfaction of their task. 
In fact, they are committed to the task, not the job; 
to their standards, not their boss. And because they 
have degrees, they travel. They are not good ‘com- 
pany men’; they are uncommitted except to the 
challenging environments where they can ‘play with 
problems/ ” 

These men of the future already man some of the 
Ad-hocracies that exist today. There is excitement and 
creativity in the computer industry, in educational 
technology, in the application of systems techniques 
to urban problems, in the new oceanography industry, 
in government agencies concerned with environmental 
health, and elsewhere. In each of these fields, more 
representative of the future than the past, there is a 
new venturesome spirit which stands in total contrast 
to the security-minded orthodoxy and conformity 
associated with the organization man. 

The new spirit in these transient organizations is 
closer to that of the entrepreneur than the organiza- 
tion man. The free-swinging entrepreneur who started 
up vast enterprises unafraid of defeat or adverse 
opinion, is a folk hero of industrialism, particularly in 
the United States. Pareto labeled the entrepreneurs 
“adventurous souls, hungry for novelty . . . not at all 
alarmed at change.” 

It is conventional wisdom to assert that the age of 
the entrepreneur is dead, and that in his place there 
now stand only organization men or bureaucrats. Yet 
what is happening today is a resurgence of entrepre- 
neurialism within the heart of large organizations. The 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 149 

secret behind this reversal is the new transience and 
the death of economic insecurity for large masses of 
educated men. With the rise of affluence has come a 
new willingness to take risks. Men are willing to risk 
failure because they cannot believe they will ever 
starve. Thus says Charles Elwell, director of industrial 
relations for Hunt Foods: “Executives look at them- 
selves as individual entrepreneurs who are selling their 
knowledge and skills.” Indeed, as Max Ways has 
pointed out in Fortune: “The professional man in 
management has a powerful base of independence— 
perhaps a firmer base than the small businessman ever 
had in his property rights.” 

Thus we find the emergence of a new kind of 
organization man— a man who, despite his many affili- 
ations, remains basically uncommitted to any organiza- 
tion. He is willing to employ his skills and creative 
energies to solve problems with equipment provided 
by the organization, and within temporary groups 
established by it. But he does so only so long as the 
problems interest him. He is committed to his own 
career, his own self-fulfillment. 

It is no accident, in light of the above, that the 
term “associate” seems suddenly to have become ex- 
tremely popular in large organizations. We now have 
“associate marketing directors” and “research asso- 
ciates,” and even government agencies are filled with 
“associate directors” and “associate administrators.” 
The word associate implies co-equal, rather than sub- 
ordinate, and its spreading use accurately reflects the 
shift from vertical and hierarchical arrangements to 
the new, more lateral, communication patterns. 

Where the organization man was subservient to the 
organization, Associative Man is almost insouciant to- 
ward it. Where the organization man was immobilized 
by concern for economic security, Associative Man 
increasingly takes it for granted. Where the orga- 
nization man was fearful of risk, Associative Man 
welcomes it (knowing that in an affluent and fast- 
changing society even failure is transient). Where the 



organization man was hierarchy-conscious, seeking 
status and prestige within the organization, Associa- 
tive Man seeks it without. Where the organization man 
filled a predetermined slot, Associative Man moves 
from slot to slot in a complex pattern that is largely 
self-motivated. Where the organization man dedicated 
himself to the solution of routine problems according 
to well-defined rules, avoiding any show of unortho- 
doxy or creativity, Associative Man, faced by novel 
problems, is encouraged to innovate. Where the orga- 
nization man had to subordinate his own individuality 
to “play ball on the team,” Associative Man recognizes 
that the team, itself, is transient. He may subordinate 
his individuality for a while, under conditions of his 
own choosing; but it is never a permanent submer- 

In all this, Associative Man bears with him a secret 
knowledge: the very temporariness of his relation- 
ships with organization frees him from many of the 
bonds that constricted his predecessor. Transience, in 
this sense, is liberating. 

Yet there is another side of the coin, and he knows 
this, as well. For the turnover of relationships with 
formal organizational structures brings with it an 
increased turnover of informal organization and a 
faster through-put of people as well. Each change 
brings with it a need for new learning. He must learn 
the rules of the game. But the rules keep changing. 
The introduction of Ad-hocracy increases the adapta- 
bility of organizations; but it strains the adaptability 
of men. Thus Tom Burns, after a study of the British 
electronics industry, finds a disturbing contrast be- 
tween managers in stable organizational structures 
and those who find themselves where change is most 
rapid. Frequent adaptation, he reports, “happened at 
the cost of personal satisfaction and adjustment. The 
difference in the personal tension of people in the top 
management positions and those of the same age who 
had reached a similar position in a more stable situa- 
tion was marked.” And Bennis declares: “Coping with 

Organizations: The Coming Ad-hocracy 151 

rapid change, living in the temporary work systems, 
setting up (in quick-step time) meaningful relations 
—and then breaking them— all augur social strains and 
psychological tensions.” 

It is possible that for many people, in their organi- 
zational relationships as in other spheres, the future is 
arriving too soon. For the individual, the move toward 
Ad-hocracy means a sharp acceleration in the turn- 
over of organizational relationships in his life. Thus 
another piece falls into place in our study of high- 
transience society. It becomes clear that acceleration 
telescopes our ties with organization in much the same 
way that it truncates our relationships with things, 
places and people. The increased turnover of all these 
relationships places a heavy adaptive burden on indi- 
viduals reared and educated for life in a slower-paced 
social system. 

It is here that the danger of future shock lies. This 
danger, as we shall now see, is intensified by the im- 
pact of the accelerative thrust in the realm of informa- 

Chapter 8 



In a society in which instant food, instant education 
and even instant cities are everyday phenomena, no 
product is more swiftly fabricated or more ruthlessly 
destroyed than the instant celebrity. Nations advanc- 
ing toward super-industrialism sharply step up their 
output of these “psycho-economic” products. Instant 
celebrities burst upon the consciousness of millions 
like an image-bomb— which is exactly what they are. 

Within less than one year from the time a Cockney 
girl-child nicknamed “Twiggy” took her first modelling 
job, millions of human beings around the globe stored 
mental images of her in their brain. A dewy-eyed 
blonde with minimal mammaries and pipestem legs, 
Twiggy exploded into celebrityhood in 1967. Her win- 
some face and malnourished figure suddenly appeared 
on the covers of magazines in Britain, America, 
France, Italy and other countries. Overnight, Twiggy 
eyelashes, mannikins, perfumes and clothes began to 
gush from the fad mills. Critics pontificated about her 
social significance. Newsmen accorded her the kind 
of coverage normally reserved for a peace treaty or a 
papal election. 

By now, however, our stored mental images of 
Twiggy have been largely erased. She has all but 
vanished from public view. Reality has confirmed her 



Information: The Kinetic Image 

own shrewd estimate that “I may not be around here 
for another six months.” For images, too, have become 
increasingly transient— and not only the images of 
models, athletes or entertainers. Not long ago I asked 
a highly intelligent teenager whether she and her 
classmates had any heroes. I said, “Do you regard 
John Glenn, for example, as a hero?” (Glenn being, 
lest the reader has forgotten, the first American astro- 
naut to orbit in space.) The child’s response was 
revealing. “No,” she said, “he’s too old.” 

At first I thought she regarded a man in his forties 
as being too old to be a hero. Soon I realized this was 
mistaken. What she meant was that Glenn’s exploits 
had taken place too long ago to be of interest. (John 
H. Glenn’s history-making flight occurred in Febru- 
ary, 1962.) Today Glenn has receded from the fore- 
ground of public attention. In effect, his image has 

Twiggy, the Beatles, John Glenn, Billie Sol Estes, 
Bob Dylan, Jack Ruby, Norman Mailer, Eichmann, 
Jean-Paul Sartre, Georgi Malenkov, Jacqueline Ken- 
nedy— thousands of “personalities” parade across the 
stage of contemporary history. Real people, magnified 
and projected by the mass media, they are stored as 
images in the minds of millions of people who have 
never met them, never spoken to them, never seen 
them “in person.” They take on a reality almost as 
( and sometimes even more ) intense than that of many 
people with whom we do have “in-person” relation- 

We form relationships with these “vicarious people," 
just as we do with friends, neighbors and colleagues. 
And just as the through-put of real, in-person people 
in our lives is increasing, and the duration of our 
average relationship with them decreasing, the same 
is true of our ties with the vicarious people who 
populate our minds. 

Their rate of flow-through is influenced by the real 
rate of change in the world. Thus, in politics, for 
example, we find that the British prime ministership 



has been turning over since 1922 at a rate some 13 
percent faster than in the base period 1721-1922. In 
sports, the heavyweight boxing championship now 
changes hands twice as fast as it did during our fa- 
ther’s youth. 0 Events, moving faster, constantly throw 
new personalities into the charmed circle of celebrity- 
hood, and old images in the mind decay to make way 
for the new. 

The same might be said for the fictional characters 
spewed out from the pages of books, from television 
screens, theaters, movies and magazines. No previous 
generation in history has had so many fictional char- 
acters flung at it. Commenting on the mass media, 
historian Marshall Fishwick wryly declares: “We may 
not even get used to Super-Hero, Captain Nice and 
Mr. Terrific before they fly off our television screens 

These vicarious people, both live and fictional, play 
a significant role in our lives, providing models for 
behavior, acting out for us various roles and situations 
from which we draw conclusions about our own lives. 
We deduce lessons from their activities, consciously or 
not. We learn from their triumphs and tribulations. 
They make it possible for us to “try on” various roles 
or life styles without suffering the consequences that 
might attend such experiments in real life. The accel- 
erated flow-through of vicarious people cannot but 
contribute to the instability of personality patterns 
among many real people who have difficulty in finding 
a suitable life style. 

These vicarious people, however, are not indepen- 
dent of one another. They perform their roles in a 
vast, complexly organized “public drama” which is, in 
the words of sociologist Orrin Klapp, author of a 

9 Between 1882 and 1932, there were ten new world heavy- 
weight boxing champions, each holding the crown an average 
of 5 years. Between 1932 and 1951, there were 7 champions, 
each with an average tenure of 3.2 years. From 1951 to 1967, 
when the World Boxing Association declared the title vacant, 
7 men held the championship for an average of 2.3 years each. 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

fascinating book called Symbolic Leaders, largely a 
product of the new communications technology. This 
public drama, in which celebrities upstage and replace 
celebrities at an accelerating rate, has the effect, ac- 
cording to Klapp, of making leadership “more unstable 
than it would be otherwise. Contretemps, upsets, 
follies, contests, scandals, make a feast of entertain- 
ment or a spinning political roulette wheel. Fads come 
and go at a dizzying pace ... A country like the 
United States has an open public drama, in which new 
faces appear daily, there is always a contest to steal 
the show, and almost anything can happen and often 
does.” What we are observing, says Klapp, is a “rapid 
turnover of symbolic leaders.” 

This can be extended, however, into a far more 
powerful statement: what is happening is not merely 
a turnover of real people or even fictional characters, 
but a more rapid turnover of the images and image- 
structures in our brains. Our relationships with these 
images of reality, upon which we base our behavior, 
are growing, on average, more and more transient. 
The entire knowledge system in society is undergoing 
violent upheaval. The very concepts and codes in 
terms of which we think are turning over at a furious 
and accelerating pace. We are increasing the rate at 
which we must form and forget our images of reality. 


Every person carries within his head a mental model 
of the world— a subjective representation of external 
reality. This model consists of tens upon tens of 
thousands of images. These may be as simple as a 
mental picture of clouds scudding across the sky. Or 
they may be abstract inferences about the way tilings 
are organized in society. We may think of this mental 
model as a fantastic internal warehouse, an image 
emporium in which we store our inner portraits of 
Twiggy, Charles De Gaulle or Cassius Clay, along 



with such sweeping propositions as “Man is basically 
good” or “God is dead.” 

Any person’s mental model will contain some images 
that approximate reality closely, along with others 
that are distorted or inaccurate. But for the person to 
function, even to survive, the model must bear some 
overall resemblance to reality. As V. Gordon Childe 
has written in Society and Knowledge, “Every repro- 
duction of the external world, constructed and used as 
a guide to action by an historical society, must in some 
degree correspond to that reality. Otherwise the so- 
ciety could not have maintained itself; its members, if 
acting in accordance with totally untrue propositions, 
would not have succeeded in making even the simplest 
tools and in securing therewith food and shelter from 
the external world.” 

No man’s model of reality is a purely personal 
product. While some of his images are based on first- 
hand observation, an increasing proportion of them 
today are based on messages beamed to us by the 
mass media and the people around us. Thus the degree 
of accuracy in his model to some extent reflects the 
general level of knowledge in society. And as experi- 
ence and scientific research pump more refined and 
accurate knowledge into society, new concepts, new 
ways of thinking, supersede, contradict, and render 
obsolete older ideas and world views. 

If society itself were standing still, there might be 
little pressure on the individual to update his own 
supply of images, to bring them in line with the latest 
knowledge available in the society. So long as the 
society in which he is embedded is stable or slowly 
changing, the images on which he bases his behavior 
can also change slowly. But to function in a fast- 
changing society, to cope with swift and complex 
change, the individual must turn over his own stock of 
images at a rate that in some way correlates with the 
pace of change. His model must be updated. To the 
degree that it lags, his responses to change become 
inappropriate; he becomes increasingly thwarted, in- 

Information: The Kinetic Image 157 

effective. Thus there is intense pressure on the individ- 
ual to keep up with the generalized pace. 

Today change is so swift and relentless in the 
techno-societies that yesterday’s truths suddenly be- 
come today’s fictions, and the most highly skilled and 
intelligent members of society admit difficulty in keep- 
ing up with the deluge of new knowledge— even in 
extremely narrow fields. 

“You can’t possibly keep in touch with all you want 
to,” complains Dr. Rudolph Stohler, a zoologist at the 
University of California at Berkeley. “I spend 25 per- 
cent to 50 percent of my working time trying to keep 
up with what’s going on,” says Dr. I. E. Wallen, chief 
of oceanography at the Smithsonian Institution in 
Washington. Dr. Emilio Segre, a Nobel prizewinner 
in physics, declares: “On K-mesons alone, to wade 
through all the papers is an impossibility.” And an- 
other oceanographer, Dr. Arthur Stump, admits: “I 
don’t really know the answer unless we declare a 
moratorium on publications for ten years.” 

New knowledge either extends or outmodes the old. 
In either case it compels those for whom it is relevant 
to reorganize their store of images. It forces them to 
relearn today what they thought they knew yesterday. 
Thus Lord James, vice-chancellor of the University 
of York, says, “I took my first degree in chemistry 
at Oxford in 1931.” Looking at the questions asked 
in chemistry exams at Oxford today, he continues, “I 
realize that not only can I not do them, but that I 
never could have done them, since at least two-thirds 
of the questions involve knowledge that simply did 
not exist when I graduated.” And Dr. Robert Hilliard, 
the top educational broadcasting specialist for the 
Federal Communications Commission, presses the 
point further: “At the rate at which knowledge is 
growing, by the time the child bom today graduates 
from college, the amount of knowledge in the world 
will be four times as great. By the time that same 
child is fifty years old, it will be thirty-two times as 
great, and 97 percent of everything known in the 

158 Transience 

world will have been learned since the time he was 

Granting that definitions of “knowledge” are vague 
and that such statistics are necessarily hazardous, there 
still can be no question that the rising tide of new 
knowledge forces us into ever-narrower specialization 
and drives us to revise our inner images of reality at 
ever-faster rates. Nor does this refer merely to abstruse 
scientific information about physical particles or ge- 
netic structure. It applies with equal force to various 
categories of knowledge that closely affect the every- 
day life of millions. 


Much new knowledge is admittedly remote from the 
immediate interests of the ordinary man in the street. 
He is not intrigued or impressed by the fact that a 
noble gas like xenon can form compounds— something 
that until recently most chemists swore was impossi- 
ble. While even this knowledge may have an impact 
on him when it is embodied in new technology, until 
then, he can afford to ignore it. A good bit of new 
knowledge, on the other hand, is directly related to 
his immediate concerns, his job, his politics, his family 
life, even his sexual behavior. 

A poignant example is the dilemma that parents 
find themselves in today as a consequence of successive 
radical changes in the image of the child in society 
and in our theories of childrearing. 

At the turn of the century in the United States, for 
example, the dominant theory reflected the prevailing 
scientific belief in the primacy of heredity in determin- 
ing behavior. Mothers who had never heard of Darwin 
or Spencer raised their babies in ways consistent with 
the world views of these thinkers. Vulgarized and 
simplified, passed from person to person, these world 
views were reflected in the conviction of millions of 

Information: The Kinetic Image 159 

ordinary people that “bad children are a result of bad 
stock,” that “crime is hereditary,” etc. 

In the early decades of the century, these attitudes 
fell back before the advance of environmentalism. The 
belief that environment shapes personality, and that 
the early years are the most important, created a new 
image of the child. The work of Watson and Pavlov 
began to creep into the public ken. Mothers reflected 
the new behaviorism, refusing to feed infants on de- 
mand, refusing to pick them up when they cried, 
weaning them early to avoid prolonged dependency. 

A study by Martha Wolfenstein has compared the 
advice offered parents in seven successive editions of 
Infant Care, a handbook issued by the United States 
Children’s Bureau between 1914 and 1951. She found 
distinct shifts in the preferred methods for dealing 
with weaning, thumb-sucking, masturbation, bowel 
and bladder training. It is clear from this study that 
by the late thirties still another image of the child 
had gained ascendancy. Freudian concepts swept in 
like a wave and revolutionized childrearing practices. 
Suddenly, mothers began to hear about “the rights of 
infants” and the need for “oral gratification.” Permis- 
siveness became the order of the day. 

Parenthetically, at the same time that Freudian 
images of the child were altering the behavior of 
parents in Dayton, Dubuque and Dallas, the image of 
the psychoanalyst changed, too. Psychoanalysts be- 
came culture heroes. Movies, television scripts, novels 
and magazine stories represented them as wise and 
sympathetic souls, wonder-workers capable of remak- 
ing damaged personalities. From the appearance of 
the movie Spellbound in 1945, through the late fifties, 
the analyst was painted in largely positive terms by 
the mass media. 

By the mid-sixties, however, he had already turned 
into a comical creature. Peter Sellers in What’s New 
Pussycat? played a psychoanalyst much crazier than 
most of his patients, and “psychoanalyst jokes” began 
to circulate not merely among New York and Cali- 



fornia sophisticates, but through the population at 
large, helped along by the same mass media that 
created the myth of the analyst in the first place. 

This sharp reversal in the public image of the 
psychoanalyst (the public image being no more than 
the weighted aggregate of private images in the soci- 
ety) reflected changes in research as well. For evi- 
dence was piling up that psychoanalytic therapy did 
not live up to the claims made for it, and new knowl- 
edge in the behavioral sciences, and particularly in 
psychopharmacology, made many Freudian therapeu- 
tic measures seem quaintly archaic. At the same time, 
there was a great burst of research in the field of 
learning theory, and a new swing in childrearing, this 
time toward a kind of neo-behaviorism, got under 

At each stage of this development a widely held set 
of images was attacked by a set of counter-images. 
Individuals holding one set were assailed by reports, 
articles, documentaries, and advice from authorities, 
friends, relatives and even casual acquaintances who 
accepted conflicting views. The same mother, turning 
to the same authorities at two different times in the 
course of raising her child, would receive, in effect, 
somewhat different advice based on different infer- 
ences about reality. While for the people of the past, 
childrearing patterns remained stable for centuries at 
a time, for the people of the present and the future, 
it has, like so many other fields, become an arena in 
which successive waves of images, many of them 
generated by scientific research, do battle. 

In this way, new knowledge alters old. The mass 
media instantly and persuasively disseminate new 
images, and ordinary individuals, seeking help in cop- 
ing with an ever more complex social environment, 
attempt to keep up. At the same time, events as 
distinct from research as such— also batter our old 
image structures. Racing swiftly past our attention 
screen, they wash out old images and generate new 
ones. After the freedom rides and the riots in black 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

ghettos only the pathological could hang on to the 
long-cherished notion that blacks are “happy children” 
content with their poverty. After the Israeli blitz vic- 
tory over the Arabs in 1967, how many still cling to 
the image of the Jew as a cheek-turning pacifist or a 
battlefield coward? 

In education, in politics, in economic theory, in 
medicine, in international affairs, wave after wave of 
new images penetrate our defenses, shake up our 
mental models of reality. The result of this image 
bombardment is the accelerated decay of old images, 
a faster intellectual through-put, and a new, profound 
sense of the impermanence of knowledge, itself. 


This impermanence is reflected in society in many 
subtle ways. A single dramatic example is the impact 
of the knowledge explosion on that classic knowledge- 
container, the book. 

As knowledge has become more plentiful and less 
permanent, we have witnessed the virtual disappear- 
ance of the solid old durable leather binding, replaced 
at first by cloth and later by paper covers. The book 
itself, like much of the information it holds, has be- 
come more transient. 

A decade ago, communications systems designer Sol 
Comberg, a radical prophet in the field of library 
technology, declared that reading would soon cease to 
be a primary form of information intake. “Reading 
and writing,” he suggested, “will become obsolete 
skills.” (Ironically, Mr. Cornberg’s wife is a novelist.) 

Whether or not he is correct, one fact is plain: the 
incredible expansion of knowledge implies that each 
book (alas, this one included) contains a progressive- 
ly smaller fraction of all that is known. And the pa- 
perback revolution, by making inexpensive editions 
available everywhere, lessens the scarcity value of the 
book at precisely the very moment that the increas- 



ingly rapid obsolescence of knowledge lessens its long- 
term informational value. Thus, in the United States 
a paperback appears simultaneously on more than 
100,000 newsstands, only to be swept away by another 
tidal wave of publications delivered a mere thirty days 
later. The book thus approaches the transience of the 
monthly magazine. Indeed, many books are no more 
than “one-shot” magazines. 

At the same time, the public’s span of interest in a 
book— even a very popular book— is shrinking. Thus, 
for example, the life span of best sellers on The New 
York Times list is rapidly declining. There are marked 
irregularities from year to year, and some books man- 
age to buck the tide. Nevertheless, if we examine the 
first four years for which full data on the subject is 
available, 1953-1956, and compare this with a similar 
period one decade later, 1963-1966, we find that the 
average best seller in the earlier period remained on 
the list a full 18.8 weeks. A decade later this had 
shrunk to 15.7 weeks. Within a ten-year-period, the life 
expectancy of the average best seller had shrunk by 
nearly one-sixth. 

We can understand such trends only if we grasp the 
elemental underlying truth. We are witnessing an his- 
toric process that will inevitably change man’s psyche. 
For across the board, from cosmetics to cosmology, 
from Twiggy-type trivia to the triumphant facts of 
technology, our inner images of reality, responding to 
the acceleration of change outside ourselves, are be- 
coming shorter-lived, more temporary. We are creating 
and using up ideas and images at a faster and faster 
pace. Knowledge, like people, places, things and 
organizational forms, is becoming disposable. 


If our inner images of reality appear to be turning 
over more and more rapidly, one reason may well be 
an increase in the rate at which image-laden messages 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

are being hurled at our senses. Little effort has been 
made to investigate this scientifically, but there is 
evidence that we are increasing the exposure of the 
individual to image-bearing stimuli. 

To understand why, we need first to examine the 
basic sources of imagery. Where do the thousands of 
images filed in our mental model come from? The 
external environment showers stimuli upon us. Signals 
originating outside ourselves— sound waves, light, etc. 
—strike our sensory organs. Once perceived, these 
signals are converted, through a still mysterious proc- 
ess, into symbols of reality, into images. 

These incoming signals are of several types. Some 
might be called uncoded. Thus, for example, a man 
walks along a street and notices a leaf whipped along 
the sidewalk by the wind. He perceives this event 
through his sensory apparatus. He hears a rustling 
sound. He sees movement and greenness. He feels the 
wind. From these sensory perceptions he somehow 
forms a mental image. We can refer to these sensory 
signals as a message. But the message was not, in any 
ordinary sense of the term, man-made. It was not 
designed by anyone to communicate anything, and 
the man’s understanding of it does not depend direct- 
ly on a social code— a set of socially agreed-upon signs 
and definitions. We are all surrounded by and partici- 
pate in such events. When they occur within range of 
our senses, we may pick up uncoded messages from 
them and convert these messages into mental images. 
In fact, some proportion of the images in every indi- 
vidual’s mental model are derived from such uncoded 

But we also receive coded messages from outside 
ourselves. Coded messages are any which depend 
upon social convention for their meaning. All lan- 
guages, whether based on words or gestures, drum- 
beats or dancesteps, hieroglyphs, pictographs or the 
arrangement of knots in a string, are codes. All mes- 
sages conveyed by means of such languages are coded. 

We may speculate with some safety that as societies 



have grown larger and more complex, proliferating 
codes for the transmission of images from person to 
person, the ratio of uncoded messages received by the 
ordinary person has declined in favor of coded mes- 
sages. We may guess, in other words, that today more 
of our imagery derives from man-made messages than 
from personal observation of raw, “uncoded” events. 

Furthermore, we can discern a subtle but significant 
shift in the type of coded messages as well. For the 
illiterate villager in an agricultural society of the past, 
most of the incoming messages were what might be 
called casual or “do-it-yourself ’ communications. The 
peasant might engage in ordinary household conver- 
sation, banter, cracker-barrel or tavern talk, griping, 
complaining, boasting, baby talk, (and, in the same 
sense, animal talk), etc. This determined the nature 
of most of the coded messages he received, and one 
characteristic of this sort of communication is its loose, 
unstructured, garrulous or unedited quality. 

Compare this message input with the kind of coded 
messages received by the ordinary citizen of the pres- 
ent-day industrial society. In addition to all of the 
above, he also receives messages— mainly from the 
mass media— that have been artfully fashioned by 
communications experts. He listens to the news; he 
watches carefully scripted plays, telecasts, movies; he 
hears much more music (a highly disciplined form 
of communication ) ; he hears frequent speeches. Above 
all, he does something his peasant ancestor could not 
do: He reads— thousands of words every day, all of 
them carefully edited in advance. 

The industrial revolution, bringing with it the enor- 
mous elaboration of the mass media, thus alters 
radically the nature of the messages received by the 
ordinary individual. In addition to receiving uncoded 
messages from the environment, and coded but casual 
messages from the people around him, the individual 
now begins to receive a growing number of coded but 
pre-engineered messages as well. 

These engineered messages differ from the casual 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

or do-it-yourself product in one crucial respect: In- 
stead of being loose or carelessly framed, the engi- 
neered product tends to be tighter, more condensed, 
less redundant. It is highly purposive, preprocessed to 
eliminate unnecessary repetition, consciously designed 
to maximize informational content. It is, as communi- 
cations theorists say, “information-rich” 

This highly significant but often overlooked fact can 
be observed by anyone who takes the trouble to com- 
pare a tape recorded sample of 500 words of ordinary 
household conversation (i.e., coded, but casual) with 
500 words of newspaper text or movie dialogue (also 
coded, but engineered). Casual conversation tends to 
be filled with repetition and pauses. Ideas are repeated 
several times, often in identical words, but if not, then 
varied only slightly. 

In contrast, the 500 words of newspaper copy or 
movie dialogue are carefully pre-edited, streamlined. 
They convey relatively non-repetitive ideas. They tend 
to be more grammatically accurate than ordinary 
conversation and, if presented orally, they tend to be 
enunciated more clearly. Waste material has been 
trimmed away. Editor, writer, director— everyone in- 
volved in the production of the engineered message 
—fights to “keep the story moving” or to produce 
“fast-paced action.” It is no accident that books, 
movies, television plays, are so frequently advertised 
as “high-speed adventure,” “fast-reading,” or “breath- 
less.” No publisher or movie producer would dare 
advertise his work as “repetitive” or “redundant.” 

Thus, as radio, television, newspapers, magazines 
and novels sweep through society, as the proportion 
of engineered messages received by the individual 
rises ( and the proportion of uncoded and coded casual 
messages correspondingly declines ) , we witness a pro- 
found change: a steady speed-up in the average pace 
at which image-producing messages are presented to 
the individual. The sea of coded information that 
surrounds him begins to beat at his senses with new 



This helps account for the sense of hurry in every- 
day affairs. But if industrialism is marked by a 
communication’s speed-up, the transition to super-in- 
dustrialism is marked by intense efforts to accelerate 
the process even further. The waves of coded informa- 
tion turn into violent breakers and come at a faster 
and faster clip, pounding at us, seeking entry, as it 
were, to our nervous system. 


In the United States today the median time spent by 
adults reading newspapers is fifty-two minutes per 
day. The same person who commits nearly an hour 
to newspapers also spends time reading magazines, 
books, signs, billboards, recipes, instructions, labels 
on cans, advertising on the back of breakfast food 
boxes, etc. Surrounded by print, he “ingests” between 
10,000 and 20,000 edited words per day of the several 
times that many to which he is exposed. The same 
person also probably spends an hour and a quarter 
per day listening to the radio— more if he owns an 
FM receiver. If he listens to news, commercials, com- 
mentary or other such programs, he will, during this 
period, hear about 11,000 pre-processed words. He 
also spends several hours watching television— add 
another 10,000 words or so, plus a sequence of care- 
fully arranged, highly purposive visuals. 0 

Nothing, indeed, is quite so purposive as advertis- 
ing, and today the average American adult is assaulted 
by a minimum of 560 advertising messages each day. 
Of the 560 to which he is exposed, however, he only 
notices seventy-six. In effect, he blocks out 484 adver- 

* This is not to suggest that only words and pictures convey 
or evoke images. Music, too, sets the internal image machinery 
working, although the images produced may be completely 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

tising messages a day to preserve his attention for 
other matters. 

All this represents the press of engineered messages 
against his senses. And the pressure is rising. In an 
effort to transmit even richer image-producing mes- 
sages at an even faster rate, communications people, 
artists and others consciously work to make each 
instant of exposure to the mass media carry a heavier 
informational and emotional freight. 

Thus we see the widespread and increasing use of 
symbolism for compacting information. Today adver- 
tising men, in a deliberate attempt to cram more 
messages into the individual's mind within a given 
moment of time, make increasing use of the symbolic 
techniques of the arts. Consider the “tiger” that is 
allegedly put in one’s tank. Here a single word trans- 
mits to the audience a distinct visual image that has 
been associated since childhood with power, speed, 
and force. The pages of advertising trade magazines 
like Printers Ink are filled with sophisticated technical 
articles about the use of verbal and visual symbolism 
to accelerate image-flow. Indeed, today many artists 
might learn new image-accelerating techniques from 
the advertising men. 

If the ad men, who must pay for each split second 
of time on radio or television, and who fight for the 
readers fleeting attention in magazines and news- 
papers, are busy trying to communicate maximum 
imagery in minimum time, there is evidence, too, that 
at least some members of the public want to increase 
the rate at which they can receive messages and proc- 
ess images. This explains the phenomenal success of 
speed-reading courses among college students, busi- 
ness executives, politicians and others. One leading 
speed-reading school claims it can increase almost 
anyone’s input speed three times, and some readers 
report the ability to read literally tens of thousands of 
words per minute— a claim roundly disputed by many 
reading experts. Whether or not such speeds are pos- 
sible, the clear fact is that the rate of communication 



is accelerating. Busy people wage a desperate battle 
each day to plow through as much information as 
possible. Speed-reading presumably helps them do 

The impulse toward acceleration in communications 
is, however, by no means limited to advertising or to 
the printed word. A desire to maximize message con- 
tent in minimum time explains, for example, the ex- 
periments conducted by psychologists at the American 
Institutes for Research who played taped lectures at 
faster than normal speeds and then tested the com- 
prehension of listeners. Their purpose: to discover 
whether students would learn more if lecturers talked 

The same intent to accelerate information flow ex- 
plains the recent obsession with split-screen and multi- 
screen movies. At the Montreal World’s Fair, viewers 
in pavilion after pavilion were confronted not with a 
traditional movie screen on which ordered visual 
images appear in sequence, but with two, three, or 
five screens, each of them hurling messages at the 
viewer at the same time. On these, several stories play 
themselves out at the same time, demanding of the 
viewer the ability to accept many more messages 
simultaneously than any movie-goer in the past, or 
else to censor out, or block, certain messages to keep 
the rate of message-input, or image-stimulation, within 
reasonable limits. 

The author of an article in Life, entitled “A Film 
Revolution to Blitz Man’s Mind,” accurately describes 
the experience in these words: “Having to look at six 
images at the same time, having to watch in twenty 
minutes the equivalent of a full length movie, excites 
and crams the mind.” Elsewhere he suggests that 
another multi-screen film “by putting more into a 
moment, condenses time.” 

Even in music the same accelerative thrust is in- 
creasingly evident. A conference of composers and 
computer specialists held in San Francisco not long 
ago was informed that for several centuries music has 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

been undergoing "an increase in the amount of audi- 
tory information transmitted during a given interval 
of time,” and there is evidence also that musicians 
today play the music of Mozart, Bach and Haydn at a 
faster tempo than that at which the same music was 
performed at the time it was composed. We are get- 
ting Mozart on the run. 


If our images of reality are changing more rapidly, 
and the machinery of image-transmission is being 
speeded up, a parallel change is altering the very 
codes we use. For language, too, is convulsing. Ac- 
cording to lexicographer Stuart Berg Flexner, senior 
editor of the Random House Dictionary of the English 
Language, “The words we use are changing faster 
today— and not merely on the slang level, but on every 
level. The rapidity with which words come and go is 
vastly accelerated. This seems to be true not only of 
English, but of French, Russian and Japanese as well.” 

Flexner illustrated this with the arresting sugges- 
tion that, of the estimated 450,000 “usable” words in 
the English language today, only perhaps 250,000 
would be comprehensible to William Shakespeare. 
Were Shakespeare suddenly to materialize in London 
or New York today, he would be able to understand, 
on the average, only five out of every nine words in 
our vocabulary. The Bard would be a semi-literate. 

This implies that if the language had the same 
number of words in Shakespeare’s time as it does 
today, at least 200,000 words— perhaps several times 
that many— have dropped out and been replaced in 
the intervening four centuries. Moreover, Flexner 
conjectures that a full third of this turnover has oc- 
curred within the last fifty years alone. This, if cor- 
rect, would mean that words are now dropping out of 
the language and being replaced at a rate at least 



three times faster than during the base period 1564 
to 1914. 

This high turnover rate reflects changes in things, 
processes, and qualities in the environment. Some 
new words come directly from the world of consumer 
products and technology. Thus, for example, words 
like “fast-back,” “wash-and-wear” or flashcube” were 
all propelled into the language by advertising in re- 
cent years. Other words come from the headlines. 
“Sit-in” and “swim-in” are recent products of the civil 
rights movement; “teach-in” a product of the cam- 
paign against the Vietnam war; “be-in” and “love-in” 
products of the hippie subculture. The LSD cult has 
brought with it a profusion of new words— “acid- 
head,” “psychedelic,” etc. 

At the level of slang, the turnover rate is so rapid 
that it has forced dictionary makers to change their 
criteria for word inclusion. “In 1954,” says Flexner, 
“when I started work on the Dictionary of American 
Slang, I would not consider a word for inclusion 
unless I could find three uses of the word over a five- 
year period. Today such a criterion would be impos- 
sible. Language, like art, is increasingly becoming a 
fad proposition. The slang terms ‘fab' and ‘gear/ for 
example, didn’t last a single year. They entered the 
teen-age vocabulary in about 1966; by 1967 they 
were out. You cannot use a time criterion for slang 
any more.” 

One fact contributing to the rapid introduction and 
obsolescence of words is the incredible speed with 
which a new word can be injected into wide usage. 
In the late 1950’s and early sixties one could actually 
trace the way in which certain scholarly jargon words 
such as “rubric” or “subsumed” were picked up from 
academic journals, used in small-circulation periodi- 
cals like the New York Review of Books or Com- 
mentary, then adopted by Esquire with its then 
circulation of 800,000 to 1,000,000, and finally diffused 
through the larger society by Time, Newsweek and 
the larger mass magazines. Today the process has 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

been telescoped. The editors of mass magazines no 
longer pick up vocabulary from the intermediate 
intellectual publications alone; they, too, lift directly 
from the scholarly press in their hurry to be “on top 
of things.” 

When Susan Sontag disinterred the word “camp” 
and used it as the basis of an essay in Partisan Re- 
view in the fall of 1964, Time waited only a few 
weeks before devoting an article to the word and its 
rejuvenator. Within a matter of a few additional 
weeks, the term was cropping up in newspapers and 
other mass media. Today the word has virtually 
dropped out of usage. “Teenybopper” is another word 
that came and went with blinding speed. 

A more significant example of language turnover 
can be seen in the sudden shift of meaning associated 
with the ethnic term “black.” For years, dark-skinned 
Americans regarded the term as racist. Liberal whites 
dutifully taught their children to use the term “Negro” 
and to capitalize the “N.” Shortly after Stokely Car- 
michael proclaimed the doctrine of Black Power in 
Greenwood, Mississippi in June, 1966, however, 
“black” became a term of pride among both blacks 
and whites in the movement for racial justice. Caught 
off guard, liberal whites went through a period of 
confusion, uncertain as to whether to use Negro or 
black. Black was quickly legitimated when the mass 
media adopted the new meaning. Within a few 
months, black was “in,” Negro “out.” 

Even faster cases of diffusion are on record. “The 
Beatles,” says lexicographer Flexner, “at the height 
of their fame could make up any word they like, slip 
it into a record, and within a month it would be part 
of the language. At one time perhaps no more than 
fifty people in NASA used the word ‘A-OK.’ But 
when an astronaut used it during a televised flight, 
the word became part of the language in a single day. 
The same has been true of other space terms, too— 
lik ‘sputnik’ or ‘all systems go.’ ” 

As new words sweep in, old words vanish. A pic- 



ture of a nude girl nowadays is no longer a “pin-up” 
or a “cheesecake shot,” but a “playmate.” “Hep” has 
given way to “hip”; “hipster” to “hippie.” “Go-go” 
rushed eagerly into the language at breakneck speed, 
but it is already gone-gone among those who are 
truly “with it.” 

The turnover of language would even appear to 
involve non-verbal forms of communication as well. 
We have slang gestures, just as we have slang words 
—thumbs up or down, thumb to nose, the “shame on 
you” gesture used by children, the hand moving 
across the neck to suggest a throat-slitting. Profes- 
sionals who watch the development of the gestural 
language suggest that it, too, may be changing more 

Some gestures that were regarded as semi-obscene 
have become somewhat more acceptable as sexual 
values have changed in the society. Others that were 
used only by a few have achieved wider usage. An 
example of diffusion, Flexner observes, is the wider 
use today of that gesture of contempt and defiance 
—the fist raised and screwed about. The invasion of 
Italian movies that hit the United States in the 
fifties and sixties probably contributed to this. Sim- 
ilarly, the upraised finger— the “up yours” gesture— 
appears to be gaining greater respectability and 
currency than it once had. At the same time, other ges- 
tures have virtually vanished or been endowed with 
radically changed meaning. The circle formed by the 
thumb and forefinger to suggest that all goes well 
appears to be fading out; Churchill’s “V for Victory” 
sign is now used by protesters to signify something 
emphatically different: “peace” not “victory.” 

There was a time when a man learned the language 
of his society and made use of it, with little change, 
throughout his lifetime. His “relationship” with each 
learned word or gesture was durable. Today, to an 
astonishing degree, it is not. 

Information: The Kinetic Image 



Art, like gesture, is a form of non-verbal expression 
and a prime channel for the transmission of images. 
Here the evidences of ephemeralization are, if any- 
thing, even more pronounced. If we regard each 
school of art as though it were a word-based lan- 
guage, we are witnessing the successive replacement 
not of words, but of whole languages at once. In the 
past one rarely saw a fundamental change in an art 
style within a man’s lifetime. A style or school en- 
dured, as a rule, for generations at a time. Today the 
pace of turnover in art is vision-blurring— the viewer 
scarcely has time to “see” a school develop, to learn 
its language, so to speak, before it vanishes. 

Bursting on the scene in the last quarter of the 
nineteenth century. Impressionism was only the first 
of a sequence of shattering changes. It came at a time 
when industrialism was beginning its climactic for- 
ward surge, bringing with it a notable step-up in the 
tempo of everyday life. “It is above all the furious 
speed of [technological] development and the way 
the pace is forced that seems pathological, particu- 
larly when compared with the rate of progress in 
earlier periods in the history of art and culture,” 
writes the art historian Arnold Hauser in describing 
the turnover of art styles. “For the rapid development 
of technology not only accelerates the change of 
fashion, but also the shifting emphases in the criteria 
of aesthetic taste. . . . The continual and increas- 
ingly rapid replacement of old articles in everyday 
use by new ones . . . readjusts the speed at which 
philosophical and artistic revaluations occur . . .” 

If we roughly date the Impressionist interval from 
1875 to 1910, we see a period of dominance lasting 
approximately thirty-five years. Since then no school 
or style, from Futurism to Fauvism, from Cubism to 
Surrealism, has dominated the scene for even that 



long. One after another, styles supplant one another. 
The most enduring twentieth-century school, Abstract 
Expressionism, held sway for at most twenty years 
from 1940 to 1960, then to be followed by a wild 
succession— “Pop” lasting perhaps five years, “Op 
managing to grip the public’s attention for two or 
three years, then the emergence, appropriately 
enough, of “Kinetic Art” whose very raison detre is 

This phantasmagoric turnover is evident not merely 
in New York or San Francisco, but in Paris, in Rome, 
in Stockholm and London-wherever painters are 
found. Thus Robert Hughes writes in the New So- 
ciety: “Hailing the new painters is now one of the 
annual sports in England . . . The enthusiasm tor 
discovering a new direction in English art once a 
year has become a mania-an euphoric, almost hys- 
terical belief in renewal.” Indeed, he suggests, the 
expectation that each year will bring a new mode 
and a new crop of artists is “a significant parody of 
what is, in itself, a parodical situation-the acceler- 
ated turnover in the avant-garde today. 

If schools of art may be likened to languages, then 
individual works of art may be compared to words. 
If we make this transposition, we find in art a process 
exactly analogous to that now occurring in the verbal 
language. Here, too, “words”-i.e., individual works 
of art— are coming into use and then dropping out 
of the vocabulary at heightened speeds. Individual 
works flash across our consciousness in galleries or 
in the pages of mass magazines; the next time we look 
they are gone. Sometimes the work itself quite liter- 
ally disappears-many are collages or constructions 
built of fragile materials that simply fall apart after a 

short time. . , , 

Much of the confusion in the art world today arises 

from the failure of the cultural establishment to rec- 
ognize, once and for all, that elitism and permanence 
are dead-so, at least, contends John McHale, the 
imaginative Scot, half artist/half social scientist, who 



Information: The Kinetic Image 

heads the Center for Integrative Studies, State Uni- 
versity of New York at Binghamton. In a forceful 
essay entitled The Plastic Parthenon, McHale points 
out that “traditional canons of literary and artistic 
judgment . . . tend to place high value on perma- 
nence, uniqueness and the enduring universal value 
of chosen artifacts.” Such aesthetic standards, he 
argues, were appropriate enough in a world of hand- 
crafted goods and relatively small taste-making elites. 
These same standards, however, “in no way enable 
one to relate adequately to our present situation in 
which astronomical numbers of artifacts are mass 
produced, circulated and consumed. These may be 
identical, or only marginally different. In varying 
degree, they are expendable, replaceable, and lack 
any unique ‘value’ or intrinsic ‘truth.’ ” 

Today’s artists, McHale suggests, neither work for 
a tiny elite nor take seriously the idea that perma- 
nence is a virtue. The future of art, he says, “seems 
no longer to lie with the creation of enduring master- 
works.” Rather, artists work for the short term. Mc- 
Hale concludes that: “Accelerated changes in the 
human condition require an array of symbolic images 
of man which will match up to the requirements of 
constant change, fleeting impression and a high rate 
of obsolescence.” We need, he says, “a replaceable, 
expendable series of ikons.” 

One may quarrel with McHale’s contention that 
transience in art is desirable. Perhaps the flight from 
permanence is a tactical error.. It can even be argued 
that our artists are employing homeopathic magic, 
behaving like primitives who, awed by a force they 
do not comprehend, attempt to exert control over it 
by simple-mindedly imitating it. But whatever one’s 
attitude toward contemporary art, transience remains 
an implacable fact, a social and historic tendency so 
central to our times that it cannot be ignored. And 
it is clear that artists are reacting to it. 

The impulse toward transience in art explains the 
whole development of that most transient of art 



works, the “happening.” Allan Kaprow, who is often 
credited with originating the happening, has explicit- 
ly suggested its relationship to the throw-away cul- 
ture within which we live. The happening, according 
to its proponents, is ideally performed once and 
once only. The happening is the Kleenex tissue of art. 

This so, kinetic art can be considered the aesthetic 
embodiment of modularism. Kinetic sculptures or 
constructions crawl, whistle, whine, swing, twitch, 
rock or pulsate, their lights blinking, their magnetic 
tapes whirling, their plastic, steel, glass and copper 
components arranging and rearranging themselves 
into evanescent patterns within a given, though 
sometimes concealed, framework. Here the wiring 
and connections tend to be the least transient part of 
the structure, just as the gantry cranes and service 
towers in Joan Littlewood’s Fun Palace are designed 
to outlive any particular arrangement of the modular 
components. The intent of the kinetic work, however, 
is to create maximum variability and maximum tran- 
sience. Jean Clay has pointed out that in a traditional 
work of art “the relationship of parts to a whole had 
been decided forever.” In kinetic art, he says, the 
“balance of forms is in flux.” 

Many artists are working with engineers and scien- 
tists today, in the hope of exploiting the latest techni- 
cal processes for their own purpose, the symbolization 
of the accelerative thrust in society. “Speed,” writes 
Francastel, the French art critic, “has become some- 
thing undreamt-of, and constant movement every 
mans intimate experience.” Art reflects this new real- 

Thus we find artists from France, England, the 
United States, Scotland, Sweden, Israel and else- 
where creating kinetic images. Their creed is per- 
haps best expressed by Yaacov Agam, an Israeli 
kineticist, who says: “We are different from what we 
were three moments ago, and in three minutes more, 
we will again be different ... I try to give this ap- 
proach a plastic expression by creating a visual form 

Information: The Kinetic Image 177 

that doesn’t exist. The image appears and disappears, 
but nothing is retained.” 

The final culmination of such efforts, of course, is 
the creation of those new and quite real “fun palaces” 
—so-called total environment nightclubs in which the 
fun-seeker plunges into a space in which lights, colors 
and sounds change their patterns constantly. In effect, 
the patron steps inside a work of kinetic art. Here 
again the framework, the building itself, is only the 
longest lasting part of the whole, while its interior 
is designed to produce transient combinations of 
sensory in-puts. Whether one regards this as fun or 
not depends on the individual, perhaps; but the over- 
all direction of such movements is clear. In art, as in 
language, we are racing toward impermanence. Man’s 
relationships with symbolic imagery are growing 
more and more temporary. 


Events speed past us, compelling us to reassess our 
assumptions— our previous formed images of reality. 
Research topples older conceptions of man and na- 
ture. Ideas come and go at a frenetic rate. (A rate, 
that, in science at least, has been estimated to be 
twenty to one hundred times faster than a mere cen- 
tury ago. ) Image-laden messages hammer at our 
senses. Meanwhile, language and art, the codes 
through which we transfer image-bearing messages to 
one another, are themselves turning over more 

All this cannot— and does not— leave us unchanged. 
It accelerates the rate at which the individual must 
process his imagery if he is to adapt successfully to 
the churning environment. Nobody really knows how 
we convert signals from outside into images within. 
Yet psychology and the information sciences cast 
some light on what happens once the image is bom. 

They suggest, to begin with, that the mental model 



is organized into many highly complex image-struc- 
tures, and that new images are, in effect, filed away 
in these structures according to several classificatory 
principles. A newly generated image is filed away 
with other images pertaining to the same subject 
matter. Smaller and more limited inferences are 
ranged under larger and more inclusive generaliza- 
tions. The image is checked out for its consistency 
with those already in file. (There is evidence of the 
existence of a specific neural mechanism that carries 
out this consistency-checking procedure.) We make a 
decision, with respect to the image, as to whether it 
is closely relevant to our goals, or whether, instead, 
it is remote and hence, for us, unimportant. Each 
image is also evaluated— is it “good” or “bad” for us? 
Finally, whatever else we do with the new image, we 
also judge its truth. We decide just how much faith to 
place in it. Is it an accurate reflection of reality? Can 
it be believed? Can we base action on it? 

A new image that clearly fits somewhere into a 
subject matter slot, and which is consistent with 
images already stored there, gives us little d ifficulty. 
But if, as happens increasingly, the image is ambig- 
uous, if it is inconsistent, or, worse yet, if it flies in 
the face of our previous inferences, the mental model 
has to be forcibly revised. Large numbers of images 
may have to be reclassified, shuffled, changed again 
until a suitable integration is found. Sometimes whole 
groups of image-structures have to be tom down and 
rebuilt. In extreme cases, the basic shape of the whole 
model has to be drastically overhauled. 

Thus the mental model must be seen not as a static 
library of images, but as a living entity, tightly 
charged with energy and activity. It is not a “given” 
that we passively receive from outside. Rather, it is 
something we actively construct and reconstruct from 
moment to moment. Restlessly scanning the outer 
world with our senses, probing for information rele- 
vant to our needs and desires, we engage in a con- 
stant process of rearrangement and updating. 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

At any given instant, innumerable images are de- 
caying, dropping into the black immensity of the 
forgotten. Others are entering the system, being 
processed and filed. At the same time, we are retriev- 
ing images, “using them,” and returning them to file, 
perhaps in a different place. We are constantly com- 
paring images, associating them, cross-referencing 
them in new ways, and repositioning them. This is 
what is meant by the term “mental activity.” And 
like muscular activity, it is a form of work. It requires 
high energy to keep the system operating. 

Change, roaring through society, widens the gap 
between what we believe and what really is, between 
the existing images and the reality they are supposed 
to reflect. When this gap is only moderate, we can 
cope more or less rationally with change, we can 
react sanely to new conditions, we have a grip on 
reality. When this gap grows too wide, however, we 
find ourselves increasingly unable to cope, we re- 
spond inappropriately, we become ineffectual, with- 
draw or simply panic. At the final extreme, when the 
gap grows too wide, we suffer psychosis— or even 

To maintain our adaptive balance, to keep the gap 
within manageable proportions, we struggle to re- 
fresh our imagery, to keep it up-to-date, to relearn 
reality. Thus the accelerative thrust outside us finds 
a corresponding speed-up in the adapting individual. 
Our image-processing mechanisms, whatever they 
may be, are driven to operate at higher and higher 

This has consequences that have been as yet largely 
overlooked. For when we classify an image, any im- 
age, we make a definite, perhaps even measurable, 
energy-investment in a specific organizational pattern 
in the brain. Learning requires energy; and relearn- 
ing requires even more. “All the researches on learn- 
ing,” writes Harold D. Lasswell of Yale, “seem to 
confirm the view that ‘energies’ are bound in support of 
past learning, and that new energies are essential to 



unbind the old . . At the neurological level, he 
continues, “Any established system appears to include 
exceedingly intricate arrangements of cell material, 
electrical charges and chemical elements. At any cross 
section in time . . . the somatic structure represents 
a tremendous investment of fixed forms and poten- 
tials . . .” What this means in brief is very simple: 
there are costs involved in relearning— or, in our ter- 
minology, reclassifying imagery. 

In all the talk about the need for continuing educa- 
tion, in all the popular discussions of retraining, there 
is an assumption that man’s potentials for re-educa- 
tion are unlimited. This is, at best, an assumption, not 
a fact, and it is an assumption that needs close and 
scientific scrutiny. The process of image formation 
and classification is, in the end, a physical process, 
dependent upon finite characteristics of nerve cells 
and body chemicals. In the neural system as now con- 
stituted there are, in all likelihood, inherent limits to 
the amount and speed of image processing that the 
individual can accomplish. How fast and how con- 
tinuously can the individual revise his inner images 
before he smashes up against these limits? 

Nobody knows. It may well be that the limits stretch 
so far beyond present needs, that such gloomy specula- 
tions are unjustified. Yet one salient fact commands at- 
tention: by speeding up change in the outer world, 
we compel the individual to relearn his environment 
at every moment. This, in itself, places a new demand 
on the nervous system. The people of the past, adapt- 
ing to comparatively stable environments, maintained 
longer-lasting ties with their own inner conceptions 
of “the-way-things-are.” We, moving into high-tran- 
sience society, are forced to truncate these rela- 
tionships. Just as we must make and break our 
relationships with things, places, people and organiza- 
tions at an ever more rapid pace, so, too, must we turn 
over our conceptions of reality, our mental images of 
the world at shorter and shorter intervals. 

Transience, then, the forcible abbreviation of man’s 


Information: The Kinetic Image 

relationships, is not merely a condition of the external 
world. It has its shadow within us as well. New dis- 
coveries, new technologies, new social arrangements 
in the external world erupt into our lives in the form 
of increased turnover rates— shorter and shorter rela- 
tional durations. They force a faster and faster pace 
of daily life. They demand a new level of adaptabil- 
ity. And they set the stage for that potentially devas- 
tating social illness— future shock. 



Chapter 9 


We are creating a new society. Not a changed society. 
Not an extended, larger-than-life version of our pres- 
ent society. But a new society. 

This simple premise has not yet begun to tincture 
our consciousness. Yet unless we understand this, we 
shall destroy ourselves in trying to cope with tomor- 

A revolution shatters institutions and power rela- 
tionships. This is precisely what is happening today 
in all the high-technology nations. Students in Berlin 
and New York, in Turin and Tokyo, capture their 
deans and chancellors, bring great clanking educa- 
tion factories to a grinding halt, and even threaten to 
topple governments. Police stand aside in the ghettos 
of New York, Washington and Chicago as ancient 
property laws are openly violated. Sexual standards 
are overthrown. Great cities are paralyzed by strikes, 
power failures, riots. International power alliances 
are shaken. Financial and political leaders secretly 
tremble— not out of fear that communist (or capita- 
list) revolutionaries will oust them, but that the en- 
tire system is somehow flying out of control. 

These are indisputable signs of a sick social 
structure, a society that can no longer perform even 
its most basic functions in the accustomed ways. It 

186 Novelty 

is a society caught in the agony of revolutionary 
change. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, communists used 
to speak of the “general crisis of capitalism.” It is 
now clear that they were thinking small. What is 
occurring now is not a crisis of capitalism, but of 
industrial society itself, regardless of its political 
form. We are simultaneously experiencing a youth 
revolution, a sexual revolution, a racial revolution, a 
colonial revolution, an economic revolution, and the 
most rapid and deep-going technological revolution 
in history. We are living through the general crisis 
of industrialism. In a word, we are in the midst of 
the super-industrial revolution. 

If failure to grasp this fact impairs one’s ability to 
understand the present, it also leads otherwise in- 
telligent men into total stupidity when they talk about 
the future. It encourages them to think in simple- 
minded straight lines. Seeing evidence of bureauc- 
racy today, they naively assume there will be more 
bureaucracy tomorrow. Such linear projections char- 
acterize most of what is said or written about the 
future. And it causes us to worry about precisely 
the wrong things. 

One needs imagination to confront a revolution. 
For revolution does not move in straight lines alone. 
It jerks, twists and backtracks. It arrives in the form 
of quantum jumps and dialectical reversals. Only by 
accepting the premise that we are racing toward a 
wholly new stage of eco-technological development— 
the super-industrial stage— can we make sense of our 
era. Only by accepting the revolutionary premise can 
we free our imaginations to grapple with the future. 

Revolution implies novelty. It sends a flood of new- 
ness into the lives of countless individuals, confront- 
ing them with unfamiliar institutions and first-time 
situations. Reaching deep into our personal lives, the 
enormous changes ahead will transform traditional 
family structures and sexual attitudes. They will 
smash conventional relationships between old and 
young. They will overthrow our values with respect 

The Scientific Trajectory 187 

to money and success. They will alter work, play and 
education beyond recognition. And they will do all 
this in a context of spectacular, elegant, yet frighten- 
ing scientific advance. 

If transience is the first key to understanding the 
new society, therefore, novelty is the second. The 
future will unfold as an unending succession of bi- 
zarre incidents, sensational discoveries, implausible 
conflicts, and wildly novel dilemmas. This means that 
many members of the super-industrial society will 
never “feel at home” in it. Like the voyager who 
takes up residence in an alien country, only to find, 
once adjusted, that he must move on to another, and 
yet another, we shall come to feel like “strangers in 
a strange land.” 

The super-industrial revolution can erase hunger, 
disease, ignorance and brutality. Moreover, despite 
the pessimistic prophecies of the straight-line think- 
ers, super-industrialism will not restrict man, will not 
crush him into bleak and painful uniformity. In con- 
trast, it will radiate new opportunities for personal 
growth, adventure and delight. It will be vividly 
colorful and amazingly open to individuality. The 
problem is not whether man can survive regimenta- 
tion and standardization. The problem, as we shall 
see, is whether he can survive freedom. 

Yet for all this, man has never truly inhabited a 
novelty-filled environment before. Having to live at 
an accelerating pace is one thing when life situations 
are more or less familiar. Having to do so when faced 
by unfamiliar, strange or unprecedented situations is 
distinctly another. By unleashing the forces of novel- 
ty, we slam men up against the non-routine, the un- 
predicted. And, by so doing, we escalate the problems 
of adaptation to a new and dangerous level. For 
transience and novelty are an explosive mix. 

If all this seems doubtful, let us contemplate some 
of the novelties that lie in store for us. Combining 
rational intelligence with all the imagination we can 
command, let us project ourselves forcefully into the 

188 Novelty 

future. In doing so, let us not fear occasional error— 
the imagination is only free when fear of error is 
temporarily laid aside. Moreover, in thinking about 
the future, it is better to err on the side of daring, 
than the side of caution. 

One sees why the moment one begins listening to 
the men who are even now creating that future. 
Listen, as they describe some of the developments 
waiting to burst from their laboratories and factories. 


“Within fifty years,” says Dr. F. N. Spiess, head of 
the Marine Physical Laboratory of the Scripps In- 
stitution of Oceanography, “man will move onto and 
into the sea— occupying it and exploiting it as an in- 
tegral part of his use of this planet for recreation, 
minerals, food, waste disposal, military and trans- 
portation operations, and, as populations grow, for 
actual living space.” 

More than two-thirds of the planet’s surface is 
covered with ocean— and of this submerged terrain 
a bare five percent is well mapped. However, this 
underwater land is known to be rich with oil, gas, 
coal, diamonds, sulphur, cobalt, uranium, tin, phos- 
phates and other minerals. It teems with fish and 
plant life. 

These immense riches are about to be fought over 
and exploited on a staggering scale. Today in the 
United States alone more than 600 companies, in- 
cluding such giants as Standard Oil and Union Car- 
bide, are readying themselves for a monumental 
competitive struggle under the seas. 

The race will intensify year by year— with far- 
reaching impacts on society. Who “owns” the bottom 
of the ocean and the marine life that covers it? As 
ocean mining becomes feasible and economically 
advantageous, we can expect the resource balance 
among nations to shift. The Japanese already extract 

The Scientific Trajectory 189 

10,000,000 tons of coal each year from underwater 
mines; tin is already being ocean-mined by Malaysia, 
Indonesia and Thailand. Before long nations may go 
to war over patches of ocean bottom. We may also 
find sharp changes in the rate of industrialization of 
what are now resource-poor nations. 

Technologically, novel industries will rise to proc- 
ess the output of the oceans. Others will produce 
sophisticated and highly expensive tools for working 
the sea— deep-diving research craft, rescue subma- 
rines, electronic fish-herding equipment and the like. 
The rate of obsolescence in these fields will be swift. 
The competitive struggle will spur ever accelerating 

Culturally, we can expect new words to stream rap- 
idly into the language. “Aqua-culture”— the term for 
scientific cultivation of the ocean’s food resources— 
will take its place alongside “Agriculture.” “Water,” 
itself a term freighted with symbolic and emotional 
associations, will take on wholly new connotations. 
Along with a new vocabulary will come new symbols 
in poetry, painting, film and the other arts. Repre- 
sentations of oceanic life forms will find their way 
into graphic and industrial design. Fashions will re- 
flect dependence on the ocean. New textiles, new 
plastics and other materials will be discovered. New 
drugs will be found to cure illness or alter mental 

Most important, increased reliance on the oceans 
for food will alter the nutrition of millions— a change 
that, itself, carries significant unknowns in its wake. 
What happens to the energy level of people, to their 
desire for achievement, not to speak of their bio- 
chemistry, their average height and weight, their rate 
of maturation, their life span, their characteristic 
diseases, even their psychological responses, when 
their society shifts from a reliance on agri- to aqua- 

The opening of the sea may also bring with it a 
new frontier spirit— a way of life that offers adventure, 

190 Novelty 

danger, quick riches or fame to the initial explorers. 
Later, as man begins to colonize the continental 
shelves, and perhaps even the deeper reaches, the 
pioneers may well be followed by settlers who build 
artificial cities beneath the waves— work cities, science 
cities, medical cities, and play cities, complete with 
hospitals, hotels and homes. 

If all this sounds too far off, it is sobering to note 
that Dr. Walter L. Robb, a scientist at General 
Electric, has already kept a hamster alive under 
water by enclosing it in a box that is, in effect, an 
artificial gill— a synthetic membrane that extracts 
air from the surrounding water while keeping the 
water out. Such membranes formed the top, bottom 
and two sides of a box in which the hamster was 
submerged in water. Without the gill, the animal 
would have suffocated. With it, it was able to breathe 
under water. Such membranes, G.E. claims, may 
some day furnish air for the occupants of underwater 
experimental stations. They might eventually be 
built into the walls of undersea apartment houses, 
hotels and other structures, or even— who knows?— 
into the human body itself. 

Indeed, the old science fiction speculations about 
men with surgically implanted gills no longer seem 
quite so impossiblv far-fetched as they once did. We 
may create (perhaps even breed) specialists for 
ocean work, men and women who are not only men- 
tally, but physically equipped for work, play, love 
and sex under the sea. Even if we do not resort to 
such dramatic measures in our haste to conquer the 
underwater frontier, it seems likely that the opening 
of the oceans will generate not merely new profes- 
sional specialties, but new life styles, new ocean- 
oriented subcultures, and perhaps even new religious 
sects or mystical cults to celebrate the seas. 

One need not push speculation so far, however, to 
recognize that the novel environments to which man 
will be exposed wall, of necessity, bring with them 
altered perceptions, new sensations, new sensitivities 


The Scientific Trajectory 

to color and form, new ways of thinking and feeling. 
Moreover, the invasion of the sea, the first wave of 
which we shall witness long before the arrival of 
a.d. 2000, is only one of a series of closely tied scien- 
tific-technological trends that are now racing forward 
—all of them crammed with novel social and psy- 
chological implications. 


The conquest of the oceans links up directly with 
the advance toward accurate weather prediction and, 
ultimately, climate control. What we call weather is 
largely a consequence of the interaction of sun, air 
and ocean. By monitoring ocean currents, salinity 
and other factors, by placing weather-watch satellites 
in the sides, we will greatly increase our ability to 
forecast weather accurately. According to Dr. Walter 
Orr Roberts, past president of the American Associa- 
tion for the Advancement of Science, “We foresee 
bringing the entire globe under continuous weather 
observation by the mid-1970’s— and at reasonable cost. 
And we envision, from this, vastly improved fore- 
casting of storms, freezes, droughts, smog episodes— 
with attendant opportunities to avert disaster. But 
we can also see lurking in the beyond-knowledge of 
today an awesome potential weapon of war— the 
deliberate manipulation of weather for the benefit of 
the few and the powerful, to the detriment of the 
enemy, and perhaps of the bystanders as well.” 

In a science fiction story entitled The Weather 
Man, Theodore L. Thomas depicts a world in which 
the central political institution is a “Weather Coun- 
cil.” In it, representatives of the various nations 
hammer out weather policy and control peoples by 
adjusting climate, imposing a drought here or a storm 
there to enforce their edicts. We may still be a long 
way from having such carefully calibrated control. 
But there is no question that the day is past when 

192 Novelty 

man simply had to take whatever heaven deigned to 
give in the way of weather. In the blunt words of 
the American Meteorological Society: “Weather mod- 
ification today is a reality.” 

This represents one of the turning points in history 
and provides man with a weapon that could radically 
affect agriculture, transportation, communication, 
recreation. Unless wielded with extreme care, how- 
ever, the gift of weather control can prove man’s un- 
doing. The earth’s weather system is an integrated 
whole; a minute change at one point can touch off 
massive consequences elsewhere. Even without ag- 
gressive intent, there is danger that attempts to control 
a drought on one continent could trigger a tornado 
on another. 

Moreover, the unknown socio-psychological conse- 
quences of weather manipulation could be enormous. 
Millions of us, for example, hunger for sunshine, 
as our mass migrations to Florida, California or the 
Mediterranean coast indicate. We may well be able 
to produce sunshine— or a facsimile of it— at will. 
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration 
is studying the concept of a giant orbiting space mir- 
ror capable of reflecting the sun’s light downward on 
night-shrouded parts of the earth. A NASA official, 
George E. Mueller, has testified before Congress 
that the United States will have the capacity to 
launch huge sun-reflecting satellites by mid-1970. 
(By extension, it should not be impossible to loft 
satellites that would block out sunlight over pre- 
selected regions, plunging them into at least semi- 
darkness. ) 

The present natural light-dark cycle is tied to hu- 
man biological rhythms in ways that are, as yet, un- 
explored. One can easily imagine the use of orbiting 
sun-mirrors to alter the hours of light for agricultural, 
industrial or even psychological reasons. For example, 
the introduction of longer days into Scandinavia 
could have a strong influence on the culture and per- 
sonality types now characteristic of that region. To 

The Scientific Trajectory 193 

put the matter only half-facetiously, what happens 
to Ingmar Bergman’s brooding art when Stockholm’s 
brooding darkness is lifted? Could The Seventh Seal 
or Winter Light have been conceived in another cli- 

The increasing ability to alter weather, the de- 
velopment of new energy sources, new materials 
(some of them almost surrealistic in their properties), 
new transportation means, new foods (not only from 
the sea, but from huge hydroponic food-growing 
factories ) —all these only begin to hint at the nature 
of the accelerating changes that lie ahead. 


In War With the Newts, Karel Capek’s marvelous 
but little-known novel, man brings about the destruc- 
tion of civilization through his attempt to domesti- 
cate a variety of salamander. Today, among other 
things, man is learning to exploit animals and fish in 
ways that would have made Capek smile wryly. 
Trained pigeons are used to identify and eliminate 
defective pills from drug factory assembly lines. In 
the Ukraine, Soviet scientists employ a particular 
species of fish to clear the algae off the filters in pump- 
ing stations. Dolphins have been trained to carry 
tools to “aquanauts” submerged off the coast of Cali- 
fornia, and to ward off sharks who approach the work 
zone. Others have been trained to ram submerged 
mines, thereby detonating them and committing sui- 
cide on man’s behalf— a use that provoked a slight 
furor over inter-species ethics. 

Research into communication between man and 
the dolphin may prove to be extremely useful if, and 
when, man makes contact with extra-terrestrial life — 
a possibility that many reputable astronomers regard 
as almost inevitable. In the meantime, dolphin re- 
search is yielding new data on the ways in which 
man’s sensory apparatus differs from that of other 

194 Novelty 

animals. It suggests some of the outer limits within 
which the human organism operates— feelings, moods, 
perceptions not available to man because of his own 
biological make-up can be at least analyzed or de- 

Existing animal species, however, are by no means 
all we have to work with. A number of writers have 
suggested that new animal forms be bred for special- 
ized purposes. Sir George Thomson notes that “with 
advancing knowledge of genetics very large modifi- 
cations in the wild species can no doubt be made.” 
Arthur Clarke has written about the possibility that 
we can “increase the intelligence of our domestic 
animals, or evolve wholly new ones with much higher 
I.Q.’s than any existing now.” We are also develop- 
ing the capacity to control animal behavior by remote 
control. Dr. Jose M. R. Delgado, in a series of experi- 
ments terrifying in their human potential, implanted 
electrodes in the skull of a bull. Waving a red cape, 
Delgado provoked the animal to charge. Then, with 
a signal emitted from a tiny hand-held radio trans- 
mitter, he made the beast turn aside in mid-lunge and 
trot docilely away. 

Whether we grow specialized animals to serve us 
or develop household robots depends in part on the 
uneven race between the life sciences and the physi- 
cal sciences. It may be cheaper to make machines 
for our purposes, than to raise and train animals. 
Yet the biological sciences are developing so rapidly 
that the balance may well tip within our lifetimes. 
Indeed, the day may even come when we begin to 
grow our machines. 


Raising and training animals may be expensive, but 
what happens when we go down the evolutionary 
scale to the level of bacteria, viruses and other micro- 
organisms? Here we can harness life in its primitive 

The Scientific Trajectory 195 

forms just as we once harnessed the horse. Today 
a new science based on this principle is rapidly 
emerging and it promises to change the very nature 
of industry as we know it. 

“Our ancestors domesticated various plant and 
animal species in the prehistoric past,” says bio- 
chemist Marvin J. Johnson of the University of Wis- 
consin. But “microorganisms were not domesticated 
until very recently, primarily because man did not 
know of their existence.” Today he does, and they 
are already used in the large-scale production of 
vitamins, enzymes, antibiotics, citric acid and other 
useful compounds. By the year 2000, if the pressure 
for food continues to intensify, biologists will be 
growing microorganisms for use as animal feed and, 
eventually, human food. 

At Uppsala University in Sweden, I had the oppor- 
tunity to discuss this with Arne Tiselius, the Nobel 
prizewinning biochemist who is now president of the 
Nobel Foundation itself. “Is it conceivable,” I asked, 
“that one day we shall create, in effect, biological 
machines— systems that can be used for productive 
purposes and will be composed not of plastic or metal 
parts, but of living organisms?” His answer was 
roundabout, but unequivocal: <c We are already there. 
The great future of industry will come from biology. 
In fact, one of the most striking things about the tre- 
mendous technological development of Japan since 
the war has been not only its shipbuilding, but its 
microbiology. Japan is now the greatest power in the 
world in industry based on microbiology . . . Much 
of their food and food industry is based on processes 
in which bacteria are used. Now they produce all 
sorts of useful things— amino acids, for example. In 
Sweden everybody now talks about the need to 
strengthen our position in microbiology. 

“You see, one need not think in terms of bacteria 
and viruses alone . . . The industrial processes, in 
general, are based on man-made processes. You make 
steel by a reduction of iron ore with coal. Think of 

196 "Novelty 

the plastic industries, artificial products made orig- 
inally from petroleum. Yet it is remarkable that even 
today, with the tremendous development of chemis- 
try and chemical technology, there is no single food- 
stuff produced industrially which can compete with 
what the farmers grow. 

“In this field, and in a great many fields, nature is 
far superior to man, even to the most advanced 
chemical engineers and researchers. Now what is the 
consequence of that? When we gradually get to know 
how nature makes these things, and when we can 
imitate nature, we will have processes of an entirely 
new kind. These will form the basis for industries of 
a new kind— a sort of bio-technical factory, a biologi- 
cal technology. 

“The green plants make starch with the aid of 
carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the sun. 
This is an extremely efficient machine . . . The green 
leaf is a marvelous machine. We know a great deal 
more about it today than two or three years ago. But 
not enough to imitate it yet. There are many such 
‘machines’ in nature.” Such processes, Tiselius con- 
tinued, will be put to work. Rather than trying to 
synthesize products chemically, we will, in effect, 
grow them to specification. 

One might even conceive of biological components 
in machines— in computers, for example. “It is quite 
obvious,” Tiselius continued, “that computers so far 
are just bad imitations of our brains. Once we learn 
more about how the brain acts, I would be surprised 
if we could not construct a sort of biological com- 
puter . . . Such a computer might have electronic 
components modeled after biological components in 
the real brain. And at some distant point in the future 
it is conceivable that biological elements themselves 
might be parts of the machine.” Precisely such ideas 
have led Jean Fourastie, the French economist and 
planner, to state flatly: “Man is on the path toward 
integrating living tissue in the processes of physical 
mechanisms . . . We shall have in the near future 


The Scientific Trajectory 

machines constituted at one and the same time of 
metal and of living substances . . .” In the light of 
this, he says, “The human body itself takes on new 
meaning ” 


Like the geography of the planet, the human body 
has until now represented a fixed point in human 
experience, a “given.” Today we are fast approaching 
the day when the body can no longer be regarded as 
fixed. Man will be able, within a reasonably short 
period, to redesign not merely individual bodies, but 
the entire human race. 

In 1962 Drs. J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick re- 
ceived the Nobel prize for describing the DNA mole- 
cule. Since then advances in genetics have come trip- 
ping over one another at a rapid pace. Molecular 
biology is now about to explode from the laboratories. 
New genetic knowledge will permit us to tinker with 
human heredity and manipulate the genes to create 
altogether new versions of man. 

One of the more fantastic possibilities is that man 
will be able to make biological carbon copies of him- 
self. Through a process known as “cloning” it will be 
possible to grow from the nucleus of an adult cell a 
new organism that has the same genetic characteris- 
tics of the person contributing the cell nucleus. The 
resultant human “copy” would start life with a genetic 
endowment identical to that of the donor, although 
cultural differences might thereafter alter the person- 
ality or physical development of the clone. 

Cloning would make it possible for people to see 
themselves bom anew, to fill the world with twins of 
themselves. Cloning would, among other things, pro- 
vide us with solid empirical evidence to help us re- 
solve, once and for all, the ancient controversy over 
“nature vs. nurture” or “heredity vs. environment.” 
The solution of this problem, through the determina- 

198 Novelty 

tion of the role played by each, would be one of the 
great milestones of human intellectual development. 
Whole libraries of philosophical speculation could, by 
a single stroke, be rendered irrelevant. An answer to 
this question would open the way for speedy, qualita- 
tive advances in psychology, moral philosophy and a 
dozen other fields. 

But cloning could also create undreamed of compli- 
cations for the race. There is a certain charm to the 
idea of Albert Einstein bequeathing copies of him- 
self to posterity. But what of Adolf Hitler? Should 
there be laws to regulate cloning? Nobel Laureate 
Joshua Lederberg, a scientist who takes his social 
responsibility very seriously, believes it conceivable 
that those most likely to replicate themselves will be 
those who are most narcissistic, and that the clones 
they produce will also be narcissists. 

Even if narcissism, however, is culturally rather 
than biologically transmitted, there are other eerie 
difficulties. Thus Lederberg raises a question as to 
whether human cloning, if permitted, might not “go 
critical.” “I use that phrase,” he told me, “in almost 
exactly the same sense that is involved in nuclear 
energy. It will go critical if there is a sufficient posi- 
tive advantage to doing so . . . This has to do with 
whether the efficiency of communication, particularly 
along educational lines, is increased as between iden- 
tical genotypes or not. The similarity of neurological 
hardware might make it easier for identical copies to 
transmit technical and other insights from one gener- 
ation to the next.” 

How close is cloning? “It has already been done 
in amphibia,” says Lederberg, “and somebody may be 
doing it right now with mammals. It wouldn’t surprise 
me if it comes out any day now. When someone will 
have the courage to tiy it in a man, I haven’t the fog- 
giest idea. But I put the time scale on that anywhere 
from zero to fifteen years from now. Within fifteen 

During those same fifteen years scientists wall also 

The Scientific Trajectory 199 

leam how the various organs of the body develop, 
and they will, no doubt, begin to experiment with 
various means of modifying them. Says Lederberg: 
“Things like the size of the brain and certain sensory 
qualities of the brain are going to be brought under 
direct developmental control ... I think this is very 

It is important for laymen to understand that 
Lederberg is by no means a lone worrier in the scien- 
tific community. His fears about the biological revo- 
lution are shared by many of his colleagues. The 
ethical, moral and political questions raised by the 
new biology simply boggle the mind. Who shall live 
and who shall die? What is man? Who shall control 
research into these fields? How shall new findings be 
applied? Might we not unleash horrors for which man 
is totally unprepared? In the opinion of many of the 
world’s leading scientists the clock is ticking for a 
“biological Hiroshima.” 

Imagine, for example, the implications of biological 
breakthroughs in what might be termed “birth tech- 
nology.” Dr. E. S. E. Hafez, an internationally re- 
spected biologist at Washington State University, has 
publicly suggested, on the basis of his own astonish- 
ing work on reproduction, that within a mere ten to 
fifteen years a woman will be able to buy a tiny 
frozen embryo, take it to her doctor, have it im- 
planted in her uterus, carry it for nine months, and 
then give birth to it as though it had been conceived 
in her own body. The embryo would, in effect, be 
sold with a guarantee that the resultant baby would 
be free of genetic defect. The purchaser would also 
be told in advance the color of the baby’s eyes 
and hair, its sex, its probable size at maturity and its 
probable IQ. 

Indeed, it will be possible at some point to do 
away with the female uterus altogether. Babies will 
be conceived, nurtured and raised to maturity out- 
side the human body. It is clearly only a matter of 
years before the work begun by Dr. Daniele Petrucci 

200 Novelty 

in Bologna and other scientists in the United States 
and the Soviet Union, makes it possible for women to 
have babies without the discomfort of pregnancy. 

The potential applications of such discoveries raise 
memories of Brave New World and Astounding Sci- 
ence Fiction. Thus Dr. Hafez, in a sweep of his 
imagination, suggests that fertilized human eggs 
might be useful in the colonization of the planets. 
Instead of shipping adults to Mars, we could ship a 
shoebox full of such cells and grow them into an en- 
tire city-size population of humans. “When you con- 
sider how much it costs in fuel to lift every pound 
off the launch pad,” Dr. Hafez observes, “why send 
full-grown men and women aboard space ships? 
Instead, why not ship tiny embryos, in the care of a 
competent biologist . . . We miniaturize other space- 
craft components. Why not the passengers?” 

Long before such developments occur in outer 
space, however, the impact of the new birth tech- 
nology will strike home on earth, splintering our 
traditional notions of sexuality, motherhood, love, 
child-rearing, and education. Discussions about the 
future of the family that deal only with The Pill over- 
look the biological witches’ brew now seething in the 
laboratories. The moral and emotional choices that 
will confront us in the coming decades are mind- 

A fierce controversy is already raging today among 
biologists over the problems and ethical issues aris- 
ing out of eugenics. Should we try to breed a better 
race? If so, exactly what is “better?” And who is to 
decide? Such questions are not entirely new. Yet 
the techniques soon to be available smash the tradi- 
tional limits of the argument. We can now imagine 
remaking the human race not as a farmer slowly and 
laboriously “breeds up” his herd, but as an artist 
might, employing a brilliant range of unfamiliar col- 
ors, shapes and forms. 

Not far from Route 80, outside the little town of 
Hazard, Kentucky, is a place picturesquely known as 

The Scientific Trajectory 201 

Valley of Troublesome Creek. In this tiny backwoods 
community lives a family whose members, for gener- 
ations, have been marked by a strange anomaly: blue 
skin. According to Dr. Madison Cawein of the Uni- 
versity of Kentucky College of Medicine, who 
tracked the family down and traced its story, the 
blue-skinned people seem perfectly normal in other 
respects. Their unusual color is caused by a rare en- 
zyme deficiency that has been passed from one gen- 
eration to the next. 

Given our new, fast-accumulating knowledge of 
genetics, we shall be able to breed whole new races 
of blue people— or, for that matter, green, purple or 
orange. In a world still suffering from the moral 
lesion of racism, this is a thought to be conjured 
with. Should we strive for a world in which all peo- 
ple share the same skin color? If we want that, we 
shall no doubt have the technical means for bringing 
it about. Or should we, instead, work toward even 
greater diversity than now exists? What happens to 
the entire concept of race? To standards of physical 
beauty? To notions of superiority or inferiority? 

We are hurtling toward the time when we will 
be able to breed both super- and sub-races. As Theo- 
dore J. Gordon put it in The Future, “Given the 
ability to tailor the race, I wonder if we would “create 
all men equal,’ or would we choose to manufacture 
apartheid? Might the races of the future be: a supe- 
rior group, the DNA controllers; the humble servants; 
special athletes for the ‘games’; research scientists 
with 200 IQ and diminutive bodies . . We shall 
have the power to produce races of morons or of 
mathematical savants. 

We shall also be able to breed babies with super- 
normal vision or hearing, supernormal ability to de- 
tect changes in odor, or supernormal muscular or 
musical skills. We will be able to create sexual super- 
athletes, girls with super-mammaries (and perhaps 
more or less than the standard two), and countless 

202 Novelty 

other varieties of the previously monomorphic human 

Ultimately, the problems are not scientific or tech- 
nical, but ethical and political. Choice— and the crite- 
ria for choice— will be critical. The eminent science 
fiction author William Tenn once mused about the 
possibilities of genetic manipulation and the diffi- 
culties of choice. “Assuming hopefully for the mo- 
ment that no dictator, self-righteous planning board 
or omnipotent black box is going to make genetic se- 
lections for the coming generation, then who or what 
is? Not parents, certainly . . .” he said, “they’ll take 
the problem to their friendly neighborhood Certi- 
fied Gene Architect. 

“It seems inevitable to me that there will also be 
competitive schools of genetic architecture . . . the 
Functionalists will persuade parents to produce ba- 
bies fitted for the present needs of society; the 
Futurists will suggest children who will have a niche 
in the culture as it will have evolved in twenty years; 
the Romantics will insist that each child be bred 
with at least one outstanding talent; and the Natural- 
ists will advise the production of individuals so 
balanced genetically as to be in almost perfect equilib- 
rium . . . Human body styles, like human clothing 
styles, will become outre, or & la mode as the genetic 
couturiers who designed them come into and out of 

Buried behind this tongue-in-cheek are serious 
issues, made more profound by the immensity of the 
possibilities— some of them so grotesque that they ap- 
pear to leap at us from the canvases of Hieronymus 
Bosch. Mention was made earlier of the idea of breed- 
ing men with gills or implanting gills in them for 
efficiency in underwater environments. At a meeting 
of world renowned biologists in London, J. B. S. 
Haldane began to expatiate about the possibility of 
creating new, far-out forms of man for space explora- 
tion. “The most obvious abnormalities in extra-terres- 
trial environments,” Haldane observed, “are differences 

The Scientific Trajectory 203 

in gravitation, temperature, air pressure, air compo- 

sition, and radiation . . . Clearly a gibbon is better 
preadapted than a man for life in a low gravitational 
field, such as that of a space ship, an asteroid, 

or perhaps even the moon. A platyrrhine with a pre- 
hensile tail is even more so. Gene grafting may make 
it possible to incorporate such features into the 

human stocks.” 

While the scientists at this meeting devoted much 
of their attention to the moral consequences and 
perils of the biological revolution, no one challenged 
Haldane’s suggestion that we shall someday make 
men with tails if we want them. Indeed, Lederberg 
merely observed that there might well be non-genetic 
ways to accomplish the same ends more easily. “We 
are going to modify man experimentally through phys- 
iological and embryological alterations, and by the 
substitution of machines for his parts,” Lederberg 
declared. “If we want a man without legs, we don’t 
have to breed him, we can chop them off; if we want 
a man with a tail, we will find a way of grafting it on 
to him.” 

At another meeting of scientists and scholars, Dr. 
Robert Sinsheimer, a Caltech biophysicist, put the 
challenge squarely: 

“How will you choose to intervene in the ancient 
designs of nature for man? Would you like to con- 
trol the sex of your offspring? It will be as you wish. 
Would you like your son to be six feet tall— seven 
feet? Eight feet? What troubles you?— allergy, obesity, 
arthritic pain? These will be easily handled. For can- 
cer, diabetes, phenylketonuria there will be genetic 
therapy. The appropriate DNA will be provided in 
the appropriate dose. Viral and microbial disease will 
be easily met. Even the timeless patterns of growth 
and maturity and aging will be subject to our design. 
We know of no intrinsic limits to the life span. How 
long would you like to live?” 

Lest his audience mistake him, Sinsheimer asked: 
“Do these projections sound like LSD fantasies, or 

204 Novelty 

the view in a distorted mirror? None transcends the 
potential of what we now know. They may not be 
developed in the way one might now anticipate, but 
they are feasible, they can be brought to reality, and 
sooner rather than later.” 

Not only can such wonders be brought to reality, 
but the odds are they will. Despite profound ethical 
questions about whether they should, the fact re- 
mains that scientific curiosity is, itself, one of the most 
powerful driving forces in our society. In the words 
of Dr. Rollin D. Hotchkiss of the Rockefeller Insti- 
tute: “Many of us feel instinctive revulsion at the 
hazards of meddling with the finely balanced and far- 
reaching systems that make an individual what he is. 
Yet I believe it will surely be done or attempted. The 
pathway will be built from a combination of altruism, 
private profit and ignorance.” To this list, worse yet, 
he might have added political conflict and bland un- 
concern. Thus Dr. A. Neyfakh, chief of the research 
laboratory of the Institute of Development Biology of 
the Soviet Academy of Sciences, predicts with a 
frightening lack of anxiety that the world will soon 
witness a genetic equivalent of the arms race. He 
bases his argument on the notion that the capitalist 
powers are engaged in a “struggle for brains.” To 
make up for the brain drain, one or another of the 
“reactionary governments” will be “compelled” to 
employ genetic engineering to increase its output of 
geniuses and gifted individuals. Since this will occur 
“regardless of their intention,” an international genet- 
ics race is inevitable. And this being so, he implies, 
the Soviet Union ought to be ready to jump the gun. 

Criticized by the Soviet philosopher A. Petropav- 
lovsky for his seeming willingness, even enthusiasm, 
to participate in such a race, Neyfakh shrugged aside 
the horrors that might be unleashed by hasty appli- 
cation of the new biology, replying merely that the 
advance of science is, and ought to be, unstoppable. 
If Neyfakh’s political logic leaves something to be 


The Scientific Trajectory 

desired, his appeal to cold war passions as a justifica- 
tion for genetic tinkering is terrifying. 

In short, it is safe to say that, unless specific coun- 
ter-measures are taken, if something can be done, 
someone, somewhere will do it. The nature of what 
can and will be done exceeds anything that man is 
as yet psychologically or morally prepared to live 


We steadfastly refuse to face such facts. We avoid 
them by stubbornly refusing to recognize the speed 
of change. It makes us feel better to defer the future. 
Even those closest to the cutting edge of scientific 
research can scarcely believe the reality. Even they 
routinely underestimate the speed at which the future 
is breaking on our shores. Thus Dr. Richard J. Cleve- 
land, speaking before a conference of organ trans- 
plant specialists, announced in January, 1967, that the 
first human heart transplant operation will occur 
“within five years.” Yet before the same year was out 
Dr. Christiaan Barnard had operated on a fifty-five- 
year-old grocer named Louis Washkansky, and a 
staccato sequence of heart transplant operations ex- 
ploded like a string of firecrackers into the world’s 
awareness. In the meantime, success rates are rising 
steadily in kidney transplants. Successful liver, 
pancreas and ovary transplants are also reported. 

Such accelerating medical advances must compel 
profound changes in our ways of thinking, as well as 
our way of caring for the sick. Startling new legal, 
ethical and philosophical issues arise. What, for in- 
stance, is death? Does death occur when the heart 
stops beating, as we have traditionally believed? Or 
does it occur when the brain stops functioning? Hos- 
pitals are becoming more and more familiar with 
cases of patients kept alive through advanced medi- 
cal techniques, but doomed to exist as unconscious 

206 Novelty 

vegetables. What are the ethics of condemning such 
a person to death to obtain a healthy organ needed 
for transplant to save the life of a person with a 
better prognosis? 

Lacking guidelines or precedents, we flounder over 
the moral and legal questions. Ghoulish rumors race 
through the medical community. The New York 
Times and Komsomolskaya Pravda both speculate 
about the possibility of "future murder rings supply- 
ing healthy organs for black-market surgeons whose 
patients are unwilling to wait until natural sources 
have supplied the heart or liver or pancreas they 
need.” In Washington, the National Academy of 
Sciences, backed by a grant from the Russell Sage 
Foundation, begins a study of social policy issues 
springing from advances in the life sciences. At Stan- 
ford, a symposium, also funded by Russell Sage, ex- 
amines methods for setting up transplant organ banks, 
the economics of an organ market, and evidences of 
class or racial discrimination in organ availability. 

The possibility of cannibalizing bodies or corpses 
for usable transplant organs, grisly as it is, will serve 
to accelerate further the pace of change by lending 
urgency to research in the field of artificial organs— 
plastic or electronic substitutes for the heart or liver 
or spleen. (Eventually, even these may be made un- 
necessary when we learn how to regenerate damaged 
organs or severed limbs, growing new ones as the liz- 
ard now grows a tail.) 

The drive to develop spare parts for failing human 
bodies will be stepped up as demand intensifies. The 
development of an economical artificial heart, Pro- 
fessor Lederberg says, “is only a few transient failures 
away.” Professor R. M. Kenedi of the bio-engineering 
group at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow 
believes that “by 1984, artificial replacements for 
tissues and organs may well have become common- 
place.” For some organs, this date is, in fact, con- 
servative. Already more than 13,000 cardiac patients 
in the United States— including a Supreme Court 

The Scientific Trajectory 207 

justice— are alive because they carry, stitched into 
their chest cavity, a tiny “pacemaker”— a device that 
sends pulses of electricity to activate the heart. 0 

Another 10,000 pioneers are already equipped with 
artificial heart valves made of dacron mesh. Implant- 
able hearing aids, artificial kidneys, arteries, hip 
joints, lungs, eye sockets and other parts are all in 
various stages of early development. We shall, before 
many decades are past, implant tiny, aspirin-sized 
sensors in the body to monitor blood pressure, pulse, 
respiration and other functions, and tiny transmitters 
to emit a signal when something goes wrong. Such 
signals will feed into giant diagnostic computer cen- 
ters upon which the medicine of the future will be 
based. Some of us will also carry a tiny platinum 
plate and a dime-sized “stimulator” attached to the 
spine. By turning a midget “radio” on and off we will 
be able to activate the stimulator and kill pain. Ini- 
tial work on these pain-control mechanisms is already 
under way at the Case Institute of Technology. Push- 
button pain killers are already being used by certain 
cardiac patients. 

Such developments will lead to vast new bio-en- 
gineering industries, chains of medical-electronic 
repair stations, new technical professions and a re- 
organization of the entire health system. They will 
change life expectancy, shatter insurance company 
life tables, and bring about important shifts in the 

* At a major Midwest hospital not long ago a patient ap- 
peared at the emergency room in the middle of the night. He 
was hiccupping violently, sixty times a minute. The patient, 
it turned out, was an early pacemaker wearer. A fast-thinking 
resident realized what had happened: a pacemaker wire, in- 
stead of stimulating the heart, had broken loose and become 
lodged in the diaphragm. Its jolts of electricity were causing 
the hiccupping. Acting swiftly, the resident inserted a needle 
into the patient’s chest near the pacemaker, ran a wire out 
from the needle and grounded it to the hospital plumbing. 
The hiccupping stopped, giving doctors a chance to operate 
and reposition the faulty wire. A foretaste of tomorrow’s 

208 Novelty 

human outlook. Surgery will be less frightening to the 
average individual; implantation routine. The human 
body will come to be seen as modular. Through appli- 
cation of .the modular principle— preservation of the 
whole through systematic replacement of transient 
components— we may add two or three decades to the 
average life span of the population. Unless, however, 
we develop far more advanced understanding of the 
brain than we now have, this could lead to one of 
the greatest ironies in history. Sir George Pickering, 
Regius professor of medicine at Oxford, has warned 
that unless we watch out, “those with senile brains 
will form an ever increasing fraction of the inhabi- 
tants of the earth. I find this,” he added rather 
unnecessarily, “a terrifying prospect.” Just such terrify- 
ing prospects will drive us toward more accelerated 
research into the brain— which, in turn, will generate 
still further radical changes in the society. 

Today we struggle to make heart valves or arti- 
ficial plumbing that imitate the original they are 
designed to replace. We strive for functional equiva- 
lence. Once we have mastered the basic problems, 
however, we shall not merely install plastic aortas in 
people because their original aorta is about to fail. 
We shall install specially-designed parts that are 
better than the original, and then we shall move on to 
install parts that provide the user with capabilities 
that were absent in the first place. Just as genetic 
engineering holds out the promise of producing 
“super-people,” so, too, does organ technology sug- 
gest the possibility of track stars with extra-capacity 
lungs or hearts; sculptors with a neural device that 
intensifies sensitivity to texture; lovers with sex-in- 
tensifying neural machinery. In short, we shall no 
longer implant merely to save a life, but to enhance 
it— to make possible the achievement of moods, states, 
conditions or ecstasies that are presently beyond us. 

Under these circumstances, what happens to our 
age-old definitions of “human-ness?” How will it feel to 
be part protoplasm and part transistor? Exactly what 


The Scientific Trajectory 

possibilities will it open? What limitations will it 
place on work, play, sex, intellectual or aesthetic 
responses? What happens to the mind when the body 
is changed? Questions like these cannot be long de- 
ferred, for advanced fusions of man and machine- 
called “Cyborgs”— are closer than most people sus- 


Today the man with a pacemaker or a plastic aorta 
is still recognizably a man. The inanimate part of 
his body is still relatively unimportant in terms of 
his personality and consciousness. But as the propor- 
tion of machine components rises, what happens to 
his awareness of self, his inner experience? If we 
assume that the brain is the seat of consciousness and 
intelligence, and that no other part of the body af- 
fects personality or self very much, then it is possible 
to conceive of a disembodied brain— a brain without 
arms, legs, spinal cord or other equipment— as a self, 
a personality, an embodiment of awareness. It may 
then become possible to combine the human brain 
with a whole set of artificial sensors, receptors and 
effectors, and to call that tangle of wires and plastic 
a human being. 

All this may seem to resemble medieval specula- 
tion about the number of angels who can pirouette 
on a pinhead, yet the first small steps toward some 
form of man-machine symbiosis are already being 
taken. Moreover, they are being taken not by a lone 
mad scientist, but by thousands of highly trained 
engineers, mathematicians, biologists, surgeons, chem- 
ists, neurologists and communications specialists. 

Dr. W. G. Walter’s mechanical “tortoises” are 
machines that behave as though they had been psy- 
chologically conditioned. These tortoises were early 
specimens of a growing breed of robots ranging from 
the “Perceptron” which could learn (and even gen- 



eralize ) to the more recent “Wanderer,” a robot 
capable of exploring an area, building up in its 
memory an “image” of the terrain, and able even 
to indulge in certain operations comparable, at least 
in some respects, to “contemplative speculation” and 
“fantasy.” Experiments by Ross Ashby, H. D. Block, 
Frank Rosenblatt and others demonstrate that ma- 
chines can learn from their mistakes, improve their 
performance, and, in certain limited kinds of learning, 
outstrip human students. Says Block, professor of Ap- 
plied Mathematics at Cornell University: “I don’t 
think there’s a task you can name that a machine can’t 
do— in principle. If you can define a task and a human 
can do it. then a machine can, at least in theory, also 
do it. The converse, however, is not true.” Intelli- 
gence and creativity, it would appear, are not a 
human monopoly. 

Despite setbacks and difficulties, the roboteers are 
moving forward. Recentlv they enjoved a collective 
laugh at the expense of one of the leading critics of 
the robot-builders, a former RAND Corporation 
computer specialist named Hubert L. Dreyfus. Argu- 
ing that computers would never be able to match 
human intelligence, Dreyfus wrote a lengthy paper 
heaping vitriolic scorn on those who disagreed with 
him. Among other things, he declared, “No chess 
program can play even amateur chess.” In context, 
he appeared to be saying that none ever would. Less 
than two years later, a graduate student at MIT, 
Richard Greenblatt, wrote a chess-playing computer 
program, challenged Dreyfus to a match, and had the 
immense satisfaction of watching the computer anni- 
hilate Dreyfus to the cheers of the “artificial intelli- 
gence” researchers. 

In a quite different field of robotology there is 
progress, too. Technicians at Disneyland have created 
extremely life-like computer-controlled humanoids 
capable of moving their arms and legs, grimacing, 
smiling, glowering, simulating fear, joy and a wide 
range of other emotions. Built of clear plastic that, 

The Scientific Trajectory 211 

according to one reporter, “does everything but 
bleed,” the robots chase girls, play music, fire pistols, 
and so closely resemble human forms that visitors 
routinely shriek with fear, flinch and otherwise react 
as though they were dealing with real human beings. 
The purposes to which these robots are put may seem 
trivial, but the technology on which they are based 
is highly sophisticated. It depends heavily on knowl- 
edge acquired from the space program— and this 
knowledge is accumulating rapidly. 

There appears to be no reason, in principle, why 
we cannot go forward from these present primitive 
and trivial robots to build humanoid machines ca- 
pable of extremely varied behavior, capable even of 
“human” error and seemingly random choice— in 
short, to make them behaviorally indistinguishable 
from humans except by means of highly sophisticated 
or elaborate tests. At that point we shall face the 
novel sensation of trying to determine whether the 
smiling, assured humanoid behind the airline reser- 
vation counter is a pretty girl or a carefully wired 

The likelihood, of course, is that she will be both. 

The thrust toward some form of man-machine sym- 
biosis is furthered by our increasing ingenuity in 
communicating with machines. A great deal of much- 
publicized work is being done to facilitate the inter- 
action of men and computers. But quite apart from 
this, Russian and American scientists have both been 
experimenting with the placement or implantation 

° This raises a number of half-amusing, half-serious problems 
about the relationships between men and machines, including 
emotional and even sexual relationships. Professor Block at 
Cornell speculates that man-machine sexual relationships may 
not be too far distant. Pointing out that men often develop 
emotional attachments to the machines they use, he suggests 
that we shall have to give attention to the “ethical” questions 
arising from our treatment of “these mechanical objects of our 
affection and passion.” A serious inquiry into these issues is to 
be found in an article by Roland Puccetti in the British 
Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 18 (1967) 39-51. 

212 Novelty 

of detectors that pick up signals from the nerve 
ends at the stub of an amputated limb. These signals 
are then amplified and used to activate an artificial 
limb, thereby making a machine directly and sensi- 
tively responsive to the nervous system of a human 
being. The human need not “think out” his desires; 
even involuntary impulses are transmittable. The 
responsive behavior of the machine is as automatic 
as the behavior of ones’ own hand, eye or leg. 

In Flight to Arras , Antoine de Saint-Exupery, novel- 
ist, poet and pioneer aviator, described buckling him- 
self into the seat of a fighter plane during World War 
II. “All this complication of oxygen tubes, heating 
equipment; these speaking tubes that form the ‘inter- 
com’ running between the members of the crew. This 
mask through which I breathe. I am attached to the 
plane by a rubber tube as indispensable as an um- 
bilical cord. Organs have been added to my being, 
and they seem to intervene between me and my heart 
. . .” We have come far since those distant days. Space 
biology is marching irresistibly toward the day when 
the astronaut will not merely be buckled into his 
capsule, but become a part of it in the full symbiotic 
sense of the phrase. 

One aim is to make the craft itself a wholly self- 
sufficient universe, in which algae is grown for food, 
water is recovered from body waste, air is recycled 
to purge it of the ammonia entering the atmosphere 
from urine, etc. In this totally enclosed fully regenera- 
tive world, the human being becomes an integral 
part of an on-going micro-ecological process whirling 
through the vastnesses of space. Thus Theodore Gor- 
don, author of The Future and himself a leading 
space engineer, writes: “Perhaps it would be simpler 
to provide life support in the form of machines that 
plug into the astronaut. He could be fed intravenous- 
ly using a liquid food compactly stored in a remote 
pressurized tank. Perhaps direct processing of body 
liquid wastes, and conversion to water, could be ac- 
complished by a new type of artificial kidney built 

The Scientific Trajectory 213 

in as part of the spaceship. Perhaps sleep could be 
induced electronically ... to lower his metabolism 
. . Und so weiter. One after another, the body func- 
tions of the human become interwoven with, depend- 
ent on, and part of, the machine functions of the 

The ultimate extension of such work, however, is 
not necessarily to be found in the outer reaches of 
space; it may well become a common part of every- 
day life here on the mother planet. This is the direct 
link-up of the human brain— stripped of its supporting 
physical structures— with the computer. Indeed, it 
may be that the biological component of the super- 
computers of the future may be massed human 
brains. The possibility of enhancing human (and 
machine) intelligence by linking them together or- 
ganically opens enormous and exciting probabilities, 
so exciting that Dr. R. M. Page, director of the Naval 
Research Laboratory in Washington, has publicly 
discussed the feasibility of a system in which human 
thoughts are fed automatically into the storage unit 
of a computer to form the basis for machine decision- 
making. Participants in a RAND Corporation study 
conducted several years ago were asked when this de- 
velopment might occur. Answers ranged from as soon 
as 1990 to “never.” But the median date given was 
2020— well within the lifetime of today’s teen-agers. 

In the meantime, research from countless sources 
contributes toward the eventual symbiosis. In one of 
the most fascinating, frightening and intellectually 
provocative experiments ever recorded, Professor 
Robert White, director of neurosurgery at the Metro- 
politan General Hospital in Cleveland, has given evi- 
dence that the brain can be isolated from its body 
and kept alive after the “death” of the rest of the or- 
ganism. The experiment, described in a brilliant 
article by Oriana Fallaci, saw a team of neurosur- 
geons cut the brain out of a rhesus monkey, discard 
the body, then hook the brain’s carotid arteries up to 

214 Novelty 

another monkey, whose blood then continued to 
bathe the disembodied organ, keeping it alive. 

Said one of the members of the medical team, Dr. 
Leo Massopust, a neurophysiologist: “The brain ac- 
tivity is largely better than when the brain had a 
body . . . No doubt about it. I even suspect that 
without his senses, he can think more quickly. What 
kind of thinking, I don’t know. I guess he is primarily 
a memory, a repository for information stored when 
he had his flesh; he cannot develop further because 
he no longer has the nourishment of experience. Yet 
this, too, is a new experience.” 

The brain survived for five hours. It could have 
lasted much longer, had it served the purposes of 
research. Professor White has successfully kept other 
brains alive for days, using machinery, rather than a 
living monkey, to keep the brain washed with blood. 
“I don’t think we have reached the stage,” he told 
Miss Fallaci, “where you can turn men into robots, 
obedient sheep. Yet ... it could happen, it isn’t im- 
possible. If you consider that we can transfer the 
head of a man onto the trunk of another man, if you 
consider that we can isolate the brain of a man and 
make it work without its body ... To me, there is no 
longer any gap between science fiction and science 
. . . We could keep Einstein’s brain alive and make it 
function normally.” 

Not only, Professor White implies, can we transfer 
the head of one man to the shoulders of another, not 
only can we keep a head or a brain “alive” and 
functioning, but it can all be done, with “existing 
techniques.” Indeed, he declares, “The Japanese will 
be the first to [keep an isolated human head alive]. 
I will not, because I haven’t resolved as yet this dilem- 
ma: Is it right or not?” A devout Catholic, Dr. White is 
deeply troubled by the philosophical and moral impli- 
cations of his work. 

As the brain surgeons and the neurologists probe 
further, as the bio-engineers and the mathematicians, 
the communications experts and robot-builders be- 


The Scientific Trajectory 

come more sophisticated, as the space men and then- 
capsules grow closer and closer to one another, as 
machines begin to embody biological components and 
men come bristling with sensors and mechanical or- 
gans, the ultimate symbiosis approaches. The work 
converges. Yet the greatest marvel of all is not organ 
transplantation or symbiosis or underwater engineer- 
ing. It is not technology, nor science itself. 

The greatest and most dangerous marvel of all is 
the complacent past-orientation of the race, its un- 
willingness to confront the reality of acceleration. 
Thus man moves swiftly into an unexplored universe, 
into a totally new stage of eco-technological develop- 
ment, firmly convinced that “human nature is eternal” 
or that “stability will return.” He stumbles into the 
most violent revolution in human history muttering, 
in the words of one famous, though myopic sociolo- 
gist, that “the processes of modernization . . . have 
been more or less ‘completed.’” He simply refuses to 
imagine the future. 


In 1865 a newspaper editor told his readers that “Well- 
informed people know that it is impossible to transmit 
the voice over wires and that, were it possible to do 
so, the thing would be of no practical value.” Barely a 
decade later, the telephone erupted from Mr. Bell’s 
laboratory and changed the world. 

On the very day that the Wright brothers took 
wing, newspapers refused to report the event because 
their sober, solid, feet-on-the-ground editors simply 
could not bring themselves to believe it had happened. 
After all, a famous American astronomer, Simon New- 
comb, had not long before assured the world that “No 
possible combination of known substances, known 
forms of machinery and known forms of force, can 
be united in a practical machine by which man shall 
fly long distances.” 

216 Novelty 

Not long after this, another expert announced pub- 
licly that it was “nothing less than feeblemindedness 
to expect anything to come of the horseless carriage 
movement.” Six years later the one-millionth Ford 
rolled off an assembly line. And then there was the 
great Rutherford, himself, the discoverer of the atom, 
who said in 1933 that the energy in the atom’s nucleus 
would never be released. Nine years later: the first 
chain reaction. 

Again and again the human brain— including the 
first class scientific brain— has blinded itself to the novel 
possibilities of the future, has narrowed its field of 
concern to gain momentary reassurance, only to be 
rudely shaken by the accelerative thrust. 

This is not to imply that all the scientific or tech- 
nological advances so far discussed will necessarily 
materialize. Still less does it imply that they will all 
occur between now and the turn of the century. Some 
will, no doubt, die a-borning. Some may represent 
blind alleys. Others will succeed in the lab, but turn 
out to be impractical for one reason or another. Yet 
all this is unimportant. For even if none of these de- 
velopments occur, others, perhaps even more unset- 
tling, will. 

We have scarcely touched on the computer revolu- 
tion and the far-ramifying changes that must follow 
in its churning wake. We have barely mentioned the 
implications of the thrust into outer space, an adven- 
ture that could, before the new millennium arrives, 
change all our lives and attitudes in radical and as yet 
unpredicted ways. (What would happen if an astro- 
naut or space vehicle returned to earth contaminated 
with some fast-multiplying, death-dealing microorga- 
nism?) We have said nothing about the laser, the 
holograph, the powerful new instruments of personal 
and mass communication, the new technologies of 
crime and espionage, new forms of transport and con- 
struction, the developing horror of chemical and bac- 
teriological warfare techniques, the radiant promise of 

The Scientific Trajectory 217 

solar energy, the coming discovery of life in a test 
tube, the startling new tools and techniques for edu- 
cation, and an endless list of other fields in which 
high-impact changes lie just ahead. 

In the coming decades, advances in all these fields 
will fire off like a series of rockets carrying us out of 
the past, plunging us deeper into the new society. Nor 
will this new society quickly settle into a steady state. 
It, too, will quiver and crack and roar as it suffers jolt 
after jolt of high-energy change. For the individual 
who wishes to live in his time, to be a part of the fu- 
ture, the super-industrial revolution offers no surcease 
from change. It offers no return to the familiar past. 
It offers only the highly combustible mixture of tran- 
sience and novelty. 

This massive injection of speed and novelty into the 
fabric of society will force us not merely to cope more 
rapidly with familiar situations, events and moral 
dilemmas, but to cope at a progressively faster rate 
with situations that are, for us, decidedly unfamiliar, 
“first-time” situations, strange, irregular, unpredicta- 

This will significantly alter the balance that prevails 
in any society between the familiar and unfamiliar 
elements in the daily life of its people, between the 
routine and non-routine, the predictable and the un- 
predictable. The relationship between these two kinds 
of daily-life elements can be called the “novelty ratio” 
of the society, and as the level of newness or novelty 
rises, less and less of life appears subject to our routine 
forms of coping behavior. More and more, there is a 
growing weariness and wariness, a pall of pessimism, 
a decline in our sense of mastery. More and more, the 
environment comes to seem chaotic, beyond human 

Thus two great social forces converge: the relent- 
less movement toward transience is reinforced and 
made more potentially dangerous by a rise in the 
novelty ratio. Nor, as we shall next see, is this novelty 

218 Novelty 

to be found solely in the technological arrangements 
of the society-to-be. In its social arrangements, too, 
we can anticipate the unprecedented, the unfamiliar, 
the bizarre. 


Chapter 10 


The year 2000 is closer to us in time than the great 
depression, yet the world’s economists, traumatized 
by that historic disaster, remain frozen in the attitudes 
of the past. Economists, even those who talk the lan- 
guage of revolution, are peculiarly conservative crea- 
tures. If it were possible to pry from their brains then- 
collective image of the economy of, say, the year 2025, 
it would look very much like that of 1970— only more 

Conditioned to think in straight lines, economists 
have great difficulty imagining alternatives to com- 
munism and capitalism. They see in the growth of 
large-scale organization nothing more than a linear 
expansion of old-fashioned bureaucracy. They see 
technological advance as a simple, non-revolutionary 
extension of the known. Bom of scarcity, trained to 
think in terms of limited resources, they can hardly 
conceive of a society in which man’s basic material 
wants have been satisfied. 

One reason for their lack of imagination is that when 
they think about technological advance, they concen- 
trate solely on the means of economic activity. Yet the 
super-industrial revolution challenges the ends as well. 
It threatens to alter not merely the “how” of produc- 

220 Novelty 

tion but the “why.” It will, in short, transform the very 
purposes of economic activity. 

Before such an upheaval, even the most sophisticated 
tools of today’s economists are helpless. Input-output 
tables, econometric models— the whole paraphernalia 
of analysis that economists employ simply do not 
come to grips with the external forces— political, social 
and ethical— that will transform economic life in the 
decades before us. What does “productivity” or “ef- 
ficiency” mean in a society that places a high value on 
psychic fulfillment? What happens to an economy 
when, as is likely, the entire concept of property is 
reduced to meaninglessness? How are economies like- 
ly to be affected by the rise of supra-national plan- 
ning, taxing and regulatory agencies or by a kind of 
dialectical return to “cottage industry” based on the 
most advanced cybernetic technologies? Most im- 
portant, what happens when “no growth” replaces 
“growth” as an economic objective, when GNP ceases 
to be the holy grail? 

Only by stepping outside the framework of orthodox 
economic thought and examining these possibilities 
can we begin to prepare for tomorrow. And among 
these, none is more central than the shift in values 
that is likely to accompany the super-industrial revolu- 

Under conditions of scarcity, men struggle to meet 
their immediate material needs. Today under more 
affluent conditions, we are reorganizing the economy 
to deal with a new level of human needs. From a 
system designed to provide material satisfaction, we 
are rapidly creating an economy geared to the pro- 
vision of psychic gratification. This process of “psy- 
chologization,” one of the central themes of the 
super-industrial revolution, has been all but overlooked 
by the economists. Yet it will result in a novel, sur- 
prise-filled economy unlike any man has ever experi- 
enced. The issues raised by it will reduce the great 
conflict of the twentieth century, the conflict between 
capitalism and communism, to comparative insignifi- 


The Experience Makers 

cance. For these issues sweep far beyond economic 
or political dogma. They involve, as we shall see, 
nothing less than sanity, the human organism’s ability 
to distinguish illusion from reality. 


Much excitement has accompanied the discovery that 
once a techno-society reaches a certain stage of in- 
dustrial development, it begins to shift energies into 
the production of services, as distinct from goods. 
Many experts see in the services the wave of the future. 
They suggest that manufacturing will soon be out- 
stripped by service activity in all the industrial nations 
—a prophecy already on its way toward fulfillment. 

What the economists, however, have not done, is to 
ask the obvious question. Where does the economy go 
next? After the services, what? 

The high technology nations must, in coming years, 
direct vast resources to rehabilitating their physical 
environment and improving what has come to be 
called “the quality of life.” The fight against pollution, 
aesthetic blight, crowding, noise and dirt will clearly 
absorb tremendous energies. But, in addition to the 
provision of these public goods, we can also anticipate 
a subtle change in the character of production for 
private use. 

The very excitement aroused by the mushrooming 
growth of the service sector has diverted professional 
attention from another shift that will deeply affect 
both goods and services in the future. It is this shift 
that will lead to the next forward movement of the 
economy, the growth of a strange new sector based on 
what can only be called the “experience industries.” 
For the key to the post-service economy lies in the 
psychologization of all production, beginning with 

One of the curious facts about production in all the 
techno-societies today, and especially the United 

222 Novelty 

States, is that goods are increasingly designed to yield 
psychological “extras” for the consumer. The manu- 
facturer adds a “psychic load” to his basic product, 
and the consumer gladly pays for this intangible 

A classic example is the case of the appliance or 
auto manufacturer who adds buttons, knobs or dials 
to the control panel or dashboard, even when these 
have seemingly no significance. The manufacturer has 
learned that increasing the number of gadgets, up to 
a point, gives the operator of the machine the sense of 
controlling a more complex device, and hence a feel- 
ing of increased mastery. This psychological payoff is 
designed into the product. 

Conversely, pains are taken not to deprive the con- 
sumer of an existing psychological benefit. Thus a 
large American food company proudly launched a 
labor-saving, add-water-only cake mix. The company 
was amazed when women rejected the product in 
favor of mixes that require extra labor— the addition 
of an egg along with the water. By inserting powdered 
egg in the factory, the company had oversimplified 
the task of the housewife, depriving her of the sense 
of creatively participating in the cake-baking process. 
The powdered egg was hastily eliminated, and women 
went happily back to cracking their own eggs. Once 
again a product was modified to provide a psychic 

Examples like these can be multiplied endlessly in 
almost any major industry, from soap and cigarettes 
to dishwashers and diet colas. According to Dr. 
Emanuel Demby, president of Motivational Program- 
mers, Incorporated, a research firm employed in the 
United States and Europe by such blue-chip corpora- 
tions as General Electric, Caltex and IBM, “The 
engineering of psychological factors into manufactured 
goods will be a hallmark of production in the future— 
not only in consumer goods, but in industrial hard- 

“Even the big cranes and derricks built today em- 

The Experience Makers 223 

body this principle. Their cabs are streamlined, slick, 
like something out of the twenty-first century. Cater- 
pillar, International Harvester, Ferguson— all of them. 
Why? These mechanical monsters don’t dig better or 
hoist better because the cab is aesthetically improved. 
But the contractor who buys them likes it better. The 
men who work on them like it better. The contractor’s 
customers like it better. So even the manufacturers of 
earthmoving equipment begin to pay attention to 
non-utilitarian— i.e., psychological— factors.” 

Beyond this, Demby asserts, manufacturers are de- 
voting more attention to reducing tensions that ac- 
company the use of certain products. Manufacturers 
of sanitary napkins, for example, know that women 
have a fear of stopping up the toilet when disposing 
of them. “A new product has been developed,” he 
says, “that instantly dissolves on contact with water. 
It doesn’t perform its basic function any better. But 
it relieves some of the anxiety that went with it. This 
is psychological engineering if ever there was any!” 

Affluent consumers are willing and able to pay for 
such niceties. As disposable income rises, they become 
progressively less concerned with price, progressively 
more insistent on what they call “quality.” For many 
products quality can still be measured in the tradi- 
tional terms of workmanship, durability and materials. 
But for a fast-growing class of products, such differ- 
ences are virtually undetectable. Blindfolded, the con- 
sumer cannot distinguish Brand A from Brand B. 
Nevertheless, she often argues fiercely that one is 
superior to another. 

This paradox vanishes once the psychic component 
of production is taken into account. For even when 
they are otherwise identical, there are likely to be 
marked psychological differences between one product 
and another. Advertisers strive to stamp each product 
with its own distinct image. These images are func- 
tional: they fill a need on the part of the consumer. 
The need is psychological, however, rather than 
utilitarian in the ordinary sense. Thus we find that 

224 "Novelty 

the term “quality” increasingly refers to the ambience, 
the status associations— in effect, the psychological 
connotations of the product. 

As more and more of the basic material needs of the 
consumer are met, it is strongly predictable that even 
more economic energy will be directed at meeting 
the consumer’s subtle, varied and quite personal needs 
for beauty, prestige, individuation, and sensory de- 
light. The manufacturing sector will channel ever 
greater resources into the conscious design of psycho- 
logical distinctions and gratifications. The psychic 
component of goods production will assume increas- 
ing importance. 

“serving wenches” in the sky 

This, however, is only the first step toward the 
psychologization of the economy. The next step will 
be the expansion of the psychic component of the 

Here, again, we are already moving in the pre- 
dictable direction, as a glance at air travel demon- 
strates. Once flying was simply a matter of getting 
from here to there. Before long, the airlines began to 
compete on the basis of pretty stewardesses, food, 
luxurious surroundings, and in-flight movies. Trans- 
World Airlines recently carried this process one step 
further by offering what it called “foreign accent” 
flights between major American cities. 

The TWA passenger may now choose a jet on which 
the food, the music, the magazines, the movies, and 
the stewardess’ miniskirt are all French. He may 
choose a “Roman” flight on which the girls wear togas. 
He may opt for a “Manhattan Penthouse” flight. Or 
he may select the “Olde English” flight on which the 
girls are called “serving wenches” and the decor sup- 
posedly suggests that of an English pub. 

It is clear that TWA is no longer selling transporta- 
tion, as such, but a carefully designed psychological 

The Experience Makers 225 

package as well. We can expect the airlines before 
long to make use of lights and multi-media projections 
to create total, but temporary, environments providing 
the passenger with something approaching a theatrical 

The experience may, in fact, soon go beyond theater. 
British Overseas Airways Corporation recently pointed 
a wavering finger at the future when it announced a 
plan to provide unmarried American male passengers 
with “scientifically chosen” blind dates in London. In 
the event the computer-selected date failed to show 
up, an alternate would be provided. Moreover, a party 
would be arranged to which “several additional Lon- 
doners of both sexes of varying ages” would be invited 
so that the traveler, who would also be given a tour 
of discotheques and restaurants, would under no 
circumstances be alone. The program, called “The 
Beautiful Singles of London,” was abruptly called off 
when the government-owned airline came under Par- 
liamentary criticism. Nevertheless, we can anticipate 
further colorful attempts to paint a psychic coating on 
many consumer service fields, including retailing. 

Anyone who has strolled through Newport Center, 
an incredibly lavish new shopping plaza in Newport 
Beach, California, cannot fail to be impressed by the 
attention paid by its designers to aesthetic and psy- 
chological factors. Tall white arches and columns out- 
lined against a blue sky, fountains, statues, carefully 
planned illumination, a pop art playground, and an 
enormous Japanese wind-bell are all used to create a 
mood of casual elegance for the shopper. It is not 
merely the affluence of the surroundings, but their 
programmed pleasantness that makes shopping there 
a quite memorable experience. One can anticipate 
fantastic variations and elaborations of the same prin- 
ciples in the planning of retail stores in the future. 
We shall go far beyond any “functional” necessity, 
turning the service, whether it is shopping, dining, or 
having one’s hair cut, into a pre-fabricated experience. 

We shall watch movies or listen to chamber music 

226 Novelty 

as we have our hair cut, and the mechanical bowl that 
fits over the skull of a woman in the beauty parlor will 
do more than simply dry her hair. By directing elec- 
tronic waves to her brain, it may, quite literally, tickle 
her fancy. 

Bankers and brokers, real estate and insurance com- 
panies will employ the most carefully chosen decor, 
music, closed circuit color television, engineered tastes 
and smells, along with the most advanced mixed-media 
equipment to heighten (or neutralize) the psycho- 
logical charge that accompanies even the most routine 
transaction. No important service will be offered to 
the consumer before it has been analyzed by teams of 
behavioral engineers to improve its psychic loading. 


Reaching beyond these simple elaborations of the 
present, we shall also witness a revolutionary expan- 
sion of certain industries whose sole output consists 
not of manufactured goods, nor even of ordinary 
services, but of pre-programmed “experiences.” The 
experience industry could turn out to be one of the 
pillars of super-industrialism, the very foundation, in 
fact, of the post-service economy. 

As rising affluence and transience ruthlessly under- 
cut the old urge to possess, consumers begin to collect 
experiences as consciously and passionately as they 
once collected things. Today, as the airline example 
suggests, experiences are sold as an adjunct to some 
more traditional service. The experience is, so to speak, 
the frosting on the cake. As we advance into the fu- 
ture, however, more and more experiences will be sold 
strictly on their own merits, exactly as if they were 

Precisely this is beginning to happen, in fact. This 
accounts for the high growth rate visible in certain 
industries that have always been, at least partly, en- 
gaged in the production of experiences for their own 

The Experience Makers 227 

sake. The arts are a good example. Much of the 
“culture industry” is devoted to the creation or staging 
of specialized psychological experiences. Today we 
find art-based “experience industries” booming in vir- 
tually all the techno-societies. The same is true of 
recreation, mass entertainment, education, and certain 
psychiatric services, all of which participate in what 
might be called experiential production. 

When Club Mediterranee sells a package holiday 
that takes a young French secretary to Tahiti or Israel 
for a week or two of sun and sex, it is manufacturing 
an experience for her quite as carefully and systemat- 
ically as Renault manufactures cars. Its advertisements 
underscore the point. Thus a two-page spread in The 
New York Times Magazine begins with the headline: 
“Take 300 men and women. Strand them on an exotic 
island. And strip them of every social pressure.” Based 
in France, Club Mediterranee now operates thirty- 
four vacation “villages” all over the world. 

Similarly, when the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, 
California, offers weekend seminars in “body-aware- 
ness” and “non-verbal communication,” at seventy 
dollars per person, or five-day workshops at $180, it 
promises not simply to teach, but to plunge its affluent 
customers into “joyous” new interpersonal experiences 
—a phrase some readers take to mean adventures with 
sex or LSD. Group therapy and sensitivity training ses- 
sions are packaged experiences. So are certain classes. 
Thus, going to an Arthur Murray or Fred Astaire stu- 
dio to learn the latest dance step may provide the stu- 
dent with a skill that will bring enjoyment in the 
future, but it also provides a pleasurable here-and-now 
experience for the lonely bachelor or spinster. The 
learning experience, itself, is a major attraction for the 

All these, however, provide only the palest clue as 
to the nature of the experience industry of the future 
and the great psychological corporations, or psych- 
corps, that will dominate it. 




One important class of experiential products will be 
based on simulated environments that offer the cus- 
tomer a taste of adventure, danger, sexual titillation 
or other pleasure without risk to his real life or repu- 
tation. Thus computer experts, roboteers, designers, 
historians, and museum specialists will join to create 
experiential enclaves that reproduce, as skillfully as 
sophisticated technology will permit, the splendor of 
ancient Rome, the pomp of Queen Elizabeth’s court, 
the “sexoticism” of an eighteenth-century Japanese 
geisha house, and the like. Customers entering these 
pleasure domes will leave their everyday clothes ( and 
cares) behind, don costumes, and run through a 
planned sequence of activities intended to provide 
them with a first-hand taste of what the original— i.e., 
unsimulated— reality must have felt like. They will be 
invited, in effect, to live in the past or perhaps even 
in the future. 

Production of such experiences is closer than one 
might think. It is clearly foreshadowed in the par- 
ticipatory techniques now being pioneered in the arts. 
Thus “happenings” in which the members of the au- 
dience take part may be regarded as a first stumbling 
step toward these simulations of the future. The same 
is true of more formal works as well. When Dionysus 
in 69 was performed in New York, a critic summed up 
the theories of its plavwright, Richard Schechner, in 
the following words. “Theater has traditionally said to 
an audience, ‘Sit down and I’ll tell you a story.’ Why 
can’t it also say, ‘Stand up and we’ll play a game? 5 ” 
Schechner’s work, based loosely on Euripides, says 
precisely this, and the audience is literally invited to 
join in dancing to celebrate the rites of Dionysus. 

Artists also have begun to create whole “environ- 
ments”— works of art into which the audience may 
actually walk, and inside which things happen. In 

The Experience Makers 229 

Sweden the Modema Museet has exhibited an im- 
mense papier-mache lady called “Hon” (“She”), into 
whose innards the audience entered via a vaginal 
portal. Once inside, there were ramps, stairways, 
flashing lights, odd sounds, and something called a 
“bottle smashing machine.” Dozens of museums and 
galleries around the United States and Europe now 
display such “environments.” Time magazine’s art 
critic suggests that their intention is to bombard the 
spectator with “wacky sights, weirdo sounds and other- 
worldly sensations, ranging from the feeling of weight- 
lessness to hopped-up, psychedelic hallucinations.” 
The artists who produce these are really “experiential 

In a deceptivelv shabby storefront on a Lower Man- 
hattan street lined with factories and warehouses, I 
visited Cerebrum, an “electronic studio of participa- 
tion” where, for an hourly fee, guests are admitted 
into a startling white, high-ceilinged room. There they 
strip off their clothing, don semi-transparent robes, 
and sprawl comfortably on richly padded white plat- 
forms. Attractive male and female “guides,” similarly 
nude under their veils, offer each guest a stereophonic 
headset, a see-through mask, and, from time to time, 
balloons, kaleidoscopes, tambourines, plastic pillows, 
mirrors, pieces of crystal, marshmallows, slides and 
slide projectors. Folk and rock music, interspersed 
with snatches of television commercials, street noises 
and a lecture by or about Marshall McLuhan fill the 
ears. As the music grows more excited, guests and 
guides begin to dance on the platforms and the 
carpeted white walkways that connect them. Bubbles 
drift down from machines in the ceiling. Hostesses 
float through, spraying a variety of fragrances into 
the air. Lights change color and random images wrap 
themselves around the walls, guests and guides. The 
mood shifts from cool at first to warm, friendly, and 
mildly erotic. 

Still primitive both artistically and technologically, 
Cerebrum is a pale forerunner of the “$25,000,000 

230 Novelty 

‘super Environmental Entertainment Complex” its 
builders enthusiastically talk of creating some day. 
Whatever their artistic merit, experiments such as 
these point to far more sophisticated enclave-building 
in the future. Today’s young artists and environmental 
entrepreneurs are performing research and develop- 
ment for the psych-corps of tomorrow. 


Knowledge gained for this research will permit the 
construction of fantastic simulations. But it will also 
lead to complex live environments that subject the 
customer to significant risks and rewards. The African 
safari today is a colorless example. Future experience 
designers will, for example, create gambling casinos in 
which the customer plays not for money, but for ex- 
periential payoffs— a date with a lovely and willing 
lady if he wins, perhaps a day in solitary confinement 
if he loses. As the stakes rise, more imaginative payoffs 
and punishments will be designed. 

A loser may have to serve (by voluntary pre-agree- 
ment) as a “slave” to a winner for several days. A 
winner may be rewarded by ten free minutes of 
electronic pleasure-probing of his brain. A player may 
risk flogging or its psychological equivalent— partici- 
pation in a day-long session during which winners are 
permitted to work off their aggressions and hostilities 
by sneering, shouting at, reviling, or otherwise attack- 
ing the ego of the loser. 

High rollers may play to win a free heart or lung 
transplant at some later date, should it prove to be 
necessary. Losers may have to forego a kidney. Such 
payoffs and punishments may be escalated in intensity 
and varied endlessly. Experiential designers will study 
the pages of Krafft-Ebing or the Marquis de Sade for 
ideas. Only imagination, technological capability, and 
the constraints of a generally relaxed morality limit 
the possibilities. Experiential gambling cities will rise 

The Experience Makers 231 

to overshadow Las Vegas or Deauville, combining in a 
single place some of the features of Disneyland, the 
World’s Fair, Cape Kennedy, the Mayo Clinic, and 
the honky-tonks of Macao.® 

Once again, present-day developments foreshadow 
the future. Thus certain American television programs, 
such as The Dating Game, already pay players off in 
experiential rewards, as does the contest recently dis- 
cussed in the Swedish Parliament. In this contest, a 
pornographic magazine awarded one of its readers 
a week in Majorca with one of its “topless” models. A 
Conservative M.P. challenged the propriety of such 
goings-on. Presumably, he felt better when he was 
assured by the Finance Minister, Gunnar Strang, that 
the transaction was taxable. 

Simulated and non-simulated experiences will also 
be combined in ways that will sharply challenge 
man’s grasp of reality. In Ray Bradbury’s vivid novel, 
Fahrenheit 451, suburban couples desperately save 
their money to enable them to buy three-wall or 
four-wall video sets that permit them to enter into a 
kind of televised psycho-drama. They become actor- 
participants in soap operas that continue for weeks or 
months. Their participation in these stories is highly 
involving. We are, in fact, beginning to move toward 
the actual development of such “interactive” films with 
the help of advanced communications technology. The 
combination of simulations and “reals” will vastly mul- 
tiply the number and variety of experiential products. 

But the great psych-corps of tomorrow will not 
only sell individual, discrete experiences. They will 
offer sequences of experiences so organized that their 
very juxtaposition with one another will contribute 
color, harmony or contrast to lives that lack these 
qualities. Beauty, excitement, danger or delicious sen- 

° For a brilliant and provocative insight into experiential 
gambling and its philosophical implications, see “The Lottery 
in Babylon,” by Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentinian philosopher- 
essayist. This short work is found in Borges’ collection entitled 

232 Novelty 

suality will be programmed to enhance one another. 
By offering such experiential chains or sequences, the 
psych-corps ( working closely, no doubt, with commu- 
nity mental health centers ) will provide partial frame- 
works for those whose lives are otherwise too chaotic 
and unstructured. In effect, they will say: “Let us plan 
(part of) your life for you.” In the transient, change- 
filled world of tomorrow, that proposition will find 
many eager takers. 

The packaged experiences offered in the future will 
reach far beyond the imagination of the average con- 
sumer, filling the environment with endless novelties. 
Companies will vie with one another to create the 
most outlandish, most gratifying experiences. Indeed, 
some of these experiences— as in the case of topless 
Swedish models— will even reach beyond tomorrow’s 
broadened boundaries of social acceptability. They 
may be offered to the public covertly by unlicensed, 
underground psych-corps. This will simply add the 
thrill of “illicitude” to the experience itself. 

( On c very old experiential industry has traditionally 
operated covertly: prostitution. Many other illegal 
activities also fit within the experience industry. For 
the most part, however, all these reveal a paucity of 
imagination and a lack of technical resources that will 
be remedied in the future. They are trivial compared 
with the possibilities in a society that will, by the year 
2000 or sooner, be armed with robots, advanced com- 
puters, personality-altering drugs, brain-stimulating 
pleasure probes, and similar technological goodies. ) 

The diversity of novel experiences arrayed before 
the consumer will be the work of experience-designers, 
who will be drawn from the ranks of the most creative 
people in the society. The working motto of this pro- 
fession will be: “If you can’t serve it up real, find a 
vicarious substitute. If you’re good, the customer will 
never know the difference!” This implied blurring of 
the line between the real and the unreal will confront 
the society with serious problems, but it will not pre- 
vent or even slow the emergence of the “psyche-service 

The Experience Makers 233 

industries” and “psych-corps.” Great globe-girdling 
syndicates will create super-Disneylands of a variety, 
scale, scope, and emotional power that is hard for us 
to imagine. 

We can thus sketch the dim outlines of the super- 
industrial economy, the post-service economy of the 
future. Agriculture and the manufacture of goods will 
have become economic backwaters, employing fewer 
and fewer people. Highly automated, the making and 
growing of goods will be relatively simple. The design 
of new goods and the process of coating them with 
stronger, brighter, more emotion-packed psychological 
connotations, however, will challenge the ingenuity of 
tomorrow’s best and most resourceful entrepreneurs. 

The service sector, as defined today, will be vastly 
enlarged, and once more the design of psychological 
rewards will occupy a growing percentage of corporate 
time, energy and money. Investment services, such as 
mutual funds, for example, may introduce elements of 
experiential gambling to provide both additional ex- 
citement and non-economic payoffs to their share- 
holders. Insurance companies may offer not merely to 
pay death benefits, but to care for the widow or 
widower for several months after bereavement, pro- 
viding nurses, psychological counseling and other as- 
sistance. Based on banks of detailed data about their 
customers, they may offer a computerized mating 
service to help the survivor locate a new life partner. 
Services, in short, will be greatly elaborated. Attention 
will be paid to the psychological overtones of every 
step or component of the product. 

Finally, we shall watch the irresistible growth of 
companies already in the experiential field, and the 
formation of entirely new enterprises, both profit and 
non-profit, to design, package and distribute planned 
or programmed experiences. The arts will expand, 
becoming as Ruskin or Morris might have said, the 
handmaiden of industry. Psych-corps and other busi- 
nesses will employ actors, directors, musicians and de- 
signers in large numbers. Recreational industries will 

234 "Novelty 

grow, as the whole nature of leisure is redefined in 
experiential terms. Education, already exploding in 
size, will become one of the key experience industries 
as it begins to employ experiential techniques to con- 
vey both knowledge and values to students. The 
communications and computer industries will find in 
experiential production a major market for their ma- 
chines and for their soft-ware as well. In short, those 
industries that in one way or another associate them- 
selves with behavioral technology, those industries 
that transcend the production of tangible goods and 
traditional services, will expand most rapidly. Eventu- 
ally, the experience-makers will form a basic— if not 
the basic— sector of the economy. The process of psy- 
chologization will be complete. 


The essence of tomorrow’s economy, declares the Stan- 
ford Research Institute in a report by its Long Range 
Planning Service, will be an “emphasis upon the inner 
as well as the material needs of individuals and 
groups.” This new emphasis, SRI suggests, will arise 
not merely from the demands of the consumer, but 
from the very need of the economy to survive. “In a 
nation where all essential material needs can be filled 
by perhaps no more than three-fourths or even half 
of the productive capacity, a basic adjustment is re- 
quired to keep the economy healthy.” 

It is this convergence of pressures— from the con- 
sumer and from those who wish to keep the economy 
growing— that will propel the techno-societies toward 
the experiential production of the future. 

The movement in this direction can be delayed. The 
poverty-stricken masses of the world may not stand 
idly by as the world’s favored few traverse the path 
toward psychological self-indulgence. There is some- 
thing morally repellent about one group seeking to 
gratify itself psychologically, pursuing novel and rari- 

The Experience Makers 235 

fied pleasures, while the majority of mankind lives in 
wretchedness or starvation. The techno-societies could 
defer the arrival of experientialism, could maintain a 
more conventional economy for a time by maximizing 
traditional production, shifting resources to environ- 
mental quality control, and then launching absolutely 
massive anti-poverty and foreign aid programs. 

By creaming off “excess” productivity and, in effect, 
giving it away, the factories can be kept running, the 
agricultural surpluses used up, and the society can 
continue to focus on the satisfaction of material wants. 
A fifty-year campaign to erase hunger from the world, 
for example, would not only make excellent moral 
sense, but would buy the techno-societies badly need- 
ed time for an easier transition to the economy of the 

Such a pause might give us time to : contemplate 
the philosophical and psychological impact of experi- 
ential production. If consumers can no longer distin- 
guish clearly between the real and the simulated, if 
whole stretches of one’s life may be commercially 
programmed, we enter into a set of psycho-economic 
problems of breathtaking complexity. These problems 
challenge our most fundamental beliefs, not merely 
about democracy or economics, but about the very 
nature of rationality and sanity. 

One of the great unasked questions of our time has 
to do with the balance between vicarious and non- 
vicarious experience in our lives. No previous genera- 
tion has been exposed to one-tenth the amount of 
vicarious experiences that we lavish on ourselves and 
our children today, and no one, anywhere, has any 
real idea about the impact of this monumental shift 
on personality. Our children mature physically more 
rapidly than we did. The age of first menstruation 
continues to drop four to six months every decade. 
The population grows taller sooner. It is clear that 
many of our young people, products of television and 
instant access to oceans of information, also become 
precocious intellectually. But what happens to emo- 

236 Novelty 

tional development as the ratio of vicarious experience 
to “real” experience rises? Does the step-up of vicari- 
ousness contribute to emotional maturity? Or does it, 
in fact, retard it? 

And what, then, happens when an economy in 
search of a new purpose, seriously begins to enter into 
the production of experiences for their own sake, ex- 
periences that blur the distinction between the vicari- 
ous and the non-vicarious, the simulated and the real? 
One of the definitions of sanity, itself, is the ability to 
tell real from unreal. Shall we need a new definition? 

We must begin to reflect on these problems, for 
unless we do— and perhaps even if we do— service will 
in the end triumph over manufacture, and experiential 
production over service. The growth of the experi- 
ential sector might just be an inevitable consequence 
of affluence. For the satisfaction of man’s elemental 
material needs opens the way for new, more sophisti- 
cated gratifications. We are moving from a “gut” 
economy to a “psyche” economy because there is only 
so much gut to be satisfied. 

Beyond this, we are also moving swiftly in the direc- 
tion of a society in which objects, things, physical 
constructs, are increasingly transient. Not merely man’s 
relationships with them, but the very things them- 
selves. It may be that experiences are the only 
products which, once bought by the consumer, cannot 
be taken away from him, cannot be disposed of like 
non-returnable soda pop bottles or nicked razor blades. 

For the ancient Japanese nobility every flower, every 
serving bowl or obi, was freighted with surplus mean- 
ing; each carried a heavy load of coded symbolism 
and ritual significance. The movement toward the 
psychologization of manufactured goods takes us in 
this direction; but it collides with the powerful thrust 
toward transience that makes the objects themselves 
so perishable. Thus we shall find it easier to adorn our 
services with symbolic significance than our products. 
And, in the end, we shall pass beyond the service 
economy, beyond the imagination of today’s econ- 

The Experience Makers 237 

omists; we shall become the first culture in history to 
employ high technology to manufacture that most 
transient, yet lasting of products: the human experi- 

Chapter 11 


The flood of novelty about to crash down upon us will 
spread from universities and research centers to fac- 
tories and offices, from the marketplace and mass 
media into our social relationships, from the commu- 
nity into the home. Penetrating deep into our private 
lives, it will place absolutely unprecedented strains on 
the family itself. 

The family has been called the “giant shock absorb- 
er” of society— the place to which the bruised and 
battered individual returns after doing battle with the 
world, the one stable point in an increasingly flux- 
filled environment. As the super-industrial revolution 
unfolds, this “shock absorber” will come in for some 
shocks of its own. 

Social critics have a field day speculating about the 
family. The family is “near the point of complete ex- 
tinction,” says Ferdinand Lundberg, author of The 
Coming World Transformation. “The family is dead 
except for the first year or two of child raising,” ac- 
cording to psychoanalyst William Wolf. “This will be 
its only function.” Pessimists tell us the family is rac- 
ing toward oblivion— but seldom tell us what will take 
its place. 

Family optimists, in contrast, contend that the fam- 
ily, having existed all this time, will continue to exist. 



The Fractured Family 

Some go so far as to argue that the family is in for a 
Golden Age. As leisure spreads, they theorize, families 
will spend more time together and will derive great 
satisfaction from joint activity. “The family that plays 
together, stays together,” etc. 

A more sophisticated view holds that the very 
turbulence of tomorrow will drive people deeper into 
their families. “People will marry for stable structure,” 
says Dr. Irwin M. Greenberg, Professor of Psychiatry 
at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. According 
to this view, the family serves as one’s “portable roots,” 
anchoring one against the storm of change. In short, 
the more transient and novel the environment, the 
more important the family will become. 

It may be that both sides in this debate are wrong. 
For the future is more open than it might appear. The 
family may neither vanish nor enter upon a new 
Golden Age. It may— and this is far more likely— break 
up, shatter, only to come together again in weird and 
novel ways. 


The most obviously upsetting force likely to strike the 
family in the decades immediately ahead will be the 
impact of the new birth technology. The ability to 
pre-set the sex of one’s baby, or even to “program” its 
IQ, looks and personality traits, must now be regarded 
as a real possibility. Embryo implants, babies grown 
in vitro, die ability to swallow a pill and guarantee 
oneself twins or triplets or, even more, the ability to 
walk into a “babytorium” and actually purchase em- 
bryos— all this reaches so far beyond any previous 
human experience that one needs to look at the future 
through the eyes of the poet or painter, rather than 
those of the sociologist or conventional philosopher. 

It is regarded as somehow unscholarly, even frivo- 
lous, to discuss these matters. Yet advances in science 
and technology, or in reproductive biology alone, 

240 Novelty 

could, within a short time, smash all orthodox ideas 
about the family and its responsibilities. When babies 
can be grown in a laboratory jar what happens to the 
very notion of maternity? And what happens to 
the self-image of the female in societies which, since 
the very beginnings of man, have taught her that her 
primary mission is the propagation of and nurture of 
the race? 

Few social scientists have begun as yet to concern 
themselves with such questions. One who has is psy- 
chiatrist Hyman G. Weitzen, director of Neuropsychi- 
atric Service at Polyclinic Hospital in New York. The 
cycle of birth, Dr. Weitzen suggests, “fulfills for most 
women a major creative need . . . Most women are 
proud of their ability to bear children . . . The special 
aura that glorifies the pregnant woman has figured 
largely in the art and literature of both East and 

What happens to the cult of motherhood, Weitzen 
asks, if “her offspring might literally not be hers, but 
that of a genetically ‘superior’ ovum, implanted in her 
womb from another woman, or even grown in a Petri 
dish?” If women are to be important at all, he suggests, 
it will no longer be because they alone can bear chil- 
dren. If nothing else, we are about to kill off the 
mystique of motherhood. 

Not merely motherhood, but the concept of parent- 
hood itself may be in for radical revision. Indeed, the 
day may soon dawn when it is possible for a child to 
have more than two biological parents. Dr. Beatrice 
Mintz, a developmental biologist at the Institute for 
Cancer Research in Philadelphia, has grown what are 
coming to be known as “multi-mice”— baby mice each 
of which has more than the usual number of parents. 
Embryos are taken from each of two pregnant mice. 
These embryos are placed in a laboratory dish and 
nurtured until they form a single growing mass. This 
is then implanted in the womb of a third female 
mouse. A baby is bom that clearly shares the genetic 
characteristics of both sets of donors. Thus a typical 


The Fractured Family 

multi-mouse, bom of two pairs of parents, has white 
fur and whiskers on one side of its face, dark fur and 
whiskers on the other, with alternating bands of white 
and dark hair covering the rest of the body. Some 700 
multi-mice bred in this fashion have already produced 
more than 35,000 offspring themselves. If multi-mouse 
is here, can “multi-man” be far behind? 

Under such circumstances, what or who is a parent? 
When a woman bears in her uterus an embryo con- 
ceived in another woman’s womb, who is the mother? 
And just exactly who is the father? 

If a couple can actually purchase an embryo, then 
parenthood becomes a legal, not a biological matter. 
Unless such transactions are tightly controlled, one 
can imagine such grotesqueries as a couple buying an 
embryo, raising it in vitro, then buying another in the 
name of the first, as though for a trust fund. In that 
case, they might be regarded as legal “grandparents” 
before their first child is out of its infancy. We shall 
need a whole new vocabulary to describe kinship ties. 

Furthermore, if embryos are for sale, can a corpora- 
tion buy one? Can it buy ten thousand? Can it resell 
them? And if not a corporation, how about a non- 
commercial research laboratory? If we buy and sell 
living embryos, are we back to a new form of slavery? 
Such are the nightmarish questions soon to be de- 
bated by us. To continue to think of the family, there- 
fore, in purely conventional terms is to defy all reason. 

Faced by rapid social change and the staggering im- 
plications of the scientific revolution, super-industrial 
man may be forced to experiment with novel family 
forms. Innovative minorities can be expected to try 
out a colorful variety of family arrangements. They 
will begin by tinkering with existing forms. 


One simple thing they will do is streamline the family. 
The typical pre-industrial family not only had a good 

242 Novelty 

many children, but numerous other dependents as 
well— grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Such 
“extended” families were well suited for survival in 
slow-paced agricultural societies. But such families are 
hard to transport or transplant. They are immobile. 

Industrialism demanded masses of workers ready 
and able to move off the land in pursuit of jobs, and 
to move again whenever necessary. Thus the extended 
family gradually shed its excess weight and the so- 
called “nuclear” family emerged— a stripped-down, 
portable family unit consisting only of parents and a 
small set of children. This new style family, far more 
mobile than the traditional extended family, became 
the standard model in all the industrial countries. 

Super-industrialism, however, the next stage of eco- 
technological development, requires even higher mo- 
bility. Thus we may expect many among the people 
of the future to carry the streamlining process a step 
further by remaining childless, cutting the family 
down to its most elemental components, a man and a 
woman. Two people, perhaps with matched careers, 
will prove more efficient at navigating through educa- 
tion and social shoals, through job changes and geo- 
graphic relocations, than the ordinary child-cluttered 
family. Indeed, anthropologist Margaret Mead has 
pointed out that we may already be moving toward a 
system under which, as she puts it, “parenthood would 
be limited to a smaller number of families whose 
principal functions would be childrearing,” leaving 
the rest of the population “free to function— for the 
first time in history— as individuals.” 

A compromise may be the postponement of chil- 
dren, rather than childlessness. Men and women today 
are often tom in conflict between a commitment to 
career and a commitment to children. In the future, 
many couples will sidestep this problem by deferring 
the entire task of raising children until after retire- 

This may strike people of the present as odd. Yet 
once childbearing is broken away from its biological 


The Fractured Family 

base, nothing more than tradition suggests having 
children at an early age. Why not wait, and buy your 
embryos later, after your work career is over? Thus 
childlessness is likely to spread among young and 
middle-aged couples; sexagenarians who raise infants 
may be far more common. The post-retirement family 
could become a recognized social institution. 


If a smaller number of families raise children, how- 
ever, why do the children have to be their own? Why 
not a system under which “professional parents” take 
on the childrearing function for others? 

Raising children, after all, requires skills that are 
by no means universal. We don’t let “just anyone” 
perform brain surgery or, for that matter, sell stocks 
and bonds. Even the lowest ranking civil servant is 
required to pass tests proving competence. Yet we 
allow virtually anyone, almost without regard for 
mental or moral qualification, to try his or her hand 
at raising young human beings, so long as these hu- 
mans are biological offspring. Despite the increasing 
complexity of the task, parenthood remains the great- 
est single preserve of the amateur. 

As the present system cracks and the super-indus- 
trial revolution rolls over us, as the armies of juvenile 
delinquents swell, as hundreds of thousands of young- 
sters flee their homes, and students rampage at uni- 
versities in all the techno-societies, we can expect 
vociferous demands for an end to parental dilettant- 

There are far better ways to cope with the problems 
of youth, but professional parenthood is certain to be 
proposed, if only because it fits so perfectly with the 
society’s overall push toward specialization. More- 
over, there is a powerful, pent-up demand for this 
social innovation. Even now millions of parents, given 
the opportunity, would happily relinquish their Da- 

244 Novelty 

rental responsibilities— and not necessarily through ir- 
responsibility or lack of love. Harried, frenzied, up 
against the wall, they have come to see themselves as 
inadequate to the tasks. Given affluence and the exis- 
tence of specially-equipped and licensed professional 
parents, many of today’s biological parents would not 
only gladly surrender their children to them, but would 
look upon it as an act of love, rather than rejection. 

Parental professionals would not be therapists, but 
actual family units assigned to, and well paid for, 
rearing children. Such families might be multi-genera- 
tional by design, offering children in them an oppor- 
tunity to observe and learn from a variety of adult 
models, as was the case in the old farm homestead. 
With the adults paid to be professional parents, they 
would be freed of the occupational necessity to relo- 
cate repeatedly. Such families would take in new 
children as old ones “graduate” so that age-segrega- 
tion would be minimized. 

Thus newspapers of the future might well carry 
advertisements addressed to young married couples: 
“Why let parenthood tie you down? Let us raise your 
infant into a responsible, successful adult. Class A 
Pro-family offers: father age 39, mother, 36, grand- 
mother, 67. Uncle and aunt, age 30, live in, hold part- 
time local employment. Four-child-unit has opening 
for one, age 6-8. Regulated diet exceeds government 
standards. All adults certified in child development 
and management. Bio-parents permitted frequent vis- 
its. Telephone contact allowed. Child may spend sum- 
mer vacation with bio-parents. Religion, art, music 
encouraged by special arrangement. Five year con- 
tract, minimum. Write for further details.” 

The “real” or “bio-parents” could, as the ad suggests, 
fill the role presently played by interested godparents, 
namely that of friendly and helpful outsiders. In such 
a way, the society could continue to breed a wide 
diversity of genetic types, yet turn the care of chil- 
dren over to mother-father groups who are equipped, 

The Fractured Family 245 

both intellectually and emotionally, for the task of 
caring for kids. 


Quite a different alternative lies in the communal 
family. As transience increases the loneliness and 
alienation in society, we can anticipate increasing 
experimentation with various forms of group marriage. 
The banding together of several adults and children 
into a single “family” provides a kind of insurance 
against isolation. Even if one or two members of the 
household leave, the remaining members have one 
another. Communes are springing up modeled after 
those described by psychologist B. F. Skinner in 
Walden Two and by novelist Robert Rimmer in The 
Harr ad Experiment and Proposition 31. In the latter 
work, Rimmer seriously proposes the legalization of 
a “corporate family” in which from three to six adults 
adopt a single name, live and raise children in com- 
mon, and legally incorporate to obtain certain eco- 
nomic and tax advantages. 

According to some observers, there are already 
hundreds of open or covert communes dotting the 
American map. Not all, by any means, are composed 
of young people or hippies. Some are organized around 
specific goals— like the group, quietly financed by three 
East Coast colleges— which has taken as its function 
the task of counseling college freshmen, helping to 
orient them to campus life. The goals may be social, 
religious, political, even recreational. Thus we shall 
before long begin to see communal families of surfers 
dotting the beaches of California and Southern France, 
if they don’t already. We shall see the emergence of 
communes based on political doctrines and religious 
faiths. In Denmark, a bill to legalize group marriage 
has already been introduced in the Folketing (Parlia- 
ment). While passage is not imminent, the act of 
introduction is itself a significant symbol of change. 

246 Novelty 

In Chicago, 250 adults and children already live 
together in “family-style monasticism” under the aus- 
pices of a new, fast-growing religious organization, 
the Ecumenical Institute. Members share the same 
quarters, cook and eat together, worship and tend 
children in common, and pool their incomes. At least 
60,000 people have taken “El” courses and similar 
communes have begun to spring up in Atlanta, Boston, 
Los Angeles and other cities. “A brand-new world is 
emerging,” says Professor Joseph W. Mathews, leader 
of the Ecumenical Institute, “but people are still oper- 
ating in terms of the old one. We seek to re-educate 
people and give them the tools to build a new social 

Still another type of family unit likely to win ad- 
herents in the future might be called the “geriatric 
commune”— a group marriage of elderly people drawn 
together in a common search for companionship and 
assistance. Disengaged from the productive economy 
that makes mobility necessary, they will settle in a 
single place, band together, pool funds, collectively 
hire domestic or nursing help, and proceed— within 
limits— to have the “time of their lives.” 

Communalism runs counter to the pressure for ever 
greater geographical and social mobility generated by 
the thrust toward super-industrialism. It presupposes 
groups of people who “stay put.” For this reason, 
communal experiments will first proliferate among 
those in the society who are free from the industrial 
discipline— the retired population, the young, the drop- 
outs, the students, as well as among self-employed 
professional and technical people. Later, when ad- 
vanced technology and information systems make it 
possible for much of the work of society to be done 
at home via computer-telecommunication hookups, 
communalism will become feasible for larger numbers. 

We shall, however, also see many more “family” 
units consisting of a single unmarried adult and one 
or more children. Nor will all of these adults be 
women. It is already possible in some places for un- 

The Fractured Family 247 

married men to adopt children. In 1965 in Oregon, 
for example, a thirty-eight-year-old musician named 
Tony Piazza became the first unmarried man in that 
state, and perhaps in the United States, to be granted 
the right to adopt a baby. Courts are more readily 
granting custody to divorced fathers, too. In London, 
photographer Michael Cooper, married at twenty and 
divorced soon after, won the right to raise his infant 
son, and expressed an interest in adopting other chil- 
dren. Observing that he did not particularly wish to 
remarry, but that he liked children, Cooper mused 
aloud: “I wish you could just ask beautiful women to 
have babies for you. Or any woman you liked, or who 
had something you admired. Ideally, I’d like a big 
house full of children— all different colors, shapes and 
sizes.” Romantic? Unmanly? Perhaps. Yet attitudes 
like these will be widely held by men in the future. 

Two pressures are even now softening up the cul- 
ture, preparing it for acceptance of the idea of child- 
rearing by men. First, adoptable children are in 
oversupply in some places. Thus, in California, disc 
jockeys blare commercials: “We have many wonderful 
babies of all races and nationalities waiting to bring 
love and happiness to the right families . . . Call the 
Los Angeles County Bureau of Adoption.” At the 
same time, the mass media, in a strange non-conspira- 
torial fashion, appear to have decided simultaneously 
that men who raise children hold special interest for 
the public. Extremely popular television shows in re- 
cent seasons have glamorized womanless households 
in which men scrub floors, cook, and, most significant- 
ly, raise children. My Three Sons, The Rifleman, 
Bonanza, and Bachelor Father are four examples. 

As homosexuality becomes more socially acceptable, 
we may even begin to find families based on homo- 
sexual “marriages” with the partners adopting chil- 
dren. Whether these children would be of the same 
or opposite sex remains to be seen. But the rapidity 
with which homosexuality is winning respectability 
in the techno-societies distinctly points in this direo- 

248 Novelty 

tion. In Holland not long ago a Catholic priest “mar- 
ried” two homosexuals, explaining to critics that “they 
are among the faithful to be helped.” England has 
rewritten its relevant legislation; homosexual relations 
between consenting adults are no longer considered a 
crime. And in the United States a meeting of Episco- 
pal clergymen concluded publicly that homosexuality 
might, under certain circumstances, be adjudged 
“good.” The day may also come when a court decides 
that a couple of stable, well educated homosexuals 
might make decent “parents.” 

We might also see the gradual relaxation of bars 
against polygamy. Polygamous families exist even 
now, more widely than generally believed, in the 
midst of “normal” society. Writer Ben Merson, after 
visiting several such families in Utah where polygamy 
is still regarded as essential by certain Mormon funda- 
mentalists, estimated that there are some 30,000 peo- 
ple living in underground family units of this type in 
the United States. As sexual attitudes loosen up, as 
property rights become less important because of rising 
affluence, the social repression of polygamy may come 
to be regarded as irrational. This shift may be facili- 
tated by the very mobility that compels men to spend 
considerable time away from their present homes. The 
old male fantasy of the Captain’s Paradise may be- 
come a reality for some, although it is likely that, 
under such circumstances, the wives left behind will 
demand extramarital sexual rights. Yesterday’s “cap- 
tain” would hardly consider this possibility. Tomor- 
row’s may feel quite differently about it. 

Still another family form is even now springing up 
in our midst, a novel childrearing unit that I call the 
“aggregate family”— a family based on relationships 
between divorced and remarried couples, in which 
all the children become part of “one big family.” 
Though sociologists have paid little attention as yet to 
this phenomenon, it is already so prevalent that it 
formed the basis for a hilarious scene in a recent 
American movie entitled Divorce American Style. We 

The Fractured Family 249 

may expect aggregate families to take on increasing 
importance in the decades ahead. 

Childless marriage, professional parenthood, post- 
retirement childrearing, corporate families, communes, 
geriatric group marriages, homosexual family units, 
polygamy— these, then, are a few of the family forms 
and practices with which innovative minorities will 
experiment in the decades ahead. Not all of us, how- 
ever, will be willing to participate in such experimen- 
tation. What of the majority? 


Minorities experiment; majorities cling to the forms of 
the past. It is safe to say that large numbers of people 
will refuse to jettison the conventional idea of mar- 
riage or the familiar family forms. They will, no doubt, 
continue searching for happiness within the orthodox 
format. Yet, even they will be forced to innovate in 
the end, for the odds against success may prove over- 

The orthodox format presupposes that two young 
people will “find” one another and marry. It presup- 
poses that the two will fulfill certain psychological 
needs in one another, and that the two personalities 
will develop over the years, more or less in tandem, 
so that they continue to fulfill each others needs. It 
further presupposes that this process will last “until 
death do us part.” 

These expectations are built deeply into our culture. 
It is no longer respectable, as it once was, to marry 
for anything but love. Love has changed from a pe- 
ripheral concern of the family into its primary justifica- 
tion. Indeed, the pursuit of love through family life 
has become, for many, the very purpose of life itself. 

Love, however, is defined in terms of this notion of 
shared growth. It is seen as a beautiful mesh of 
complementary needs, flowing into and out of one 
another, fulfilling the loved ones, and producing feel- 

250 Novelty 

ings of warmth, tenderness and devotion. Unhappy 
husbands often complain that they have “left their 
wives behind” in terms of social, educational or intel- 
lectual growth. Partners in successful marriages are 
said to “grow together.” 

This “parallel development” theory of love carries 
endorsement from marriage counsellors, psychologists 
and sociologists. Thus, says sociologist Nelson Foote, 
a specialist on the family, the quality of the relation- 
ship between husband and wife is dependent upon 
“the degree of matching in their phases of distinct 
but comparable development.” 

If love is a product of shared growth, however, and 
we are to measure success in marriage by the degree 
to which matched development actually occurs, it 
becomes possible to make a strong and ominous pre- 
diction about the future. 

It is possible to demonstrate that, even in a rela- 
tively stagnant society, the mathematical odds are 
heavily stacked against any couple achieving this 
ideal of parallel growth. The odds for success posi- 
tively plummet, however, when the rate of change in 
society accelerates, as it now is doing. In a fast-moving 
society, in which many things change, not once, but 
repeatedly, in which the husband moves up and down 
a variety of economic and social scales, in which the 
family is again and again tom loose from home and 
community, in which individuals move further from 
their parents, further from the religion of origin, and 
further from traditional values, it is almost miraculous 
if two people develop at anything like comparable 

If, at the same time, average life expectancy rises 
from, say, fifty to seventy years, thereby lengthening 
the term during which this acrobatic feat of matched 
development is supposed to be maintained, the odds 
against success become absolutely astronomical. Thus, 
Nelson Foote writes with wry understatement: “To 
expect a marriage to last indefinitely under modem 


The Fractured Family 

conditions is to expect a lot.” To ask love to last 
indefinitely is to expect even more. Transience and 
novelty are both in league against it. 


It is this change in the statistical odds against love 
that accounts for the high divorce and separation 
rates in most of the techno-societies. The faster the 
rate of change and the longer the life span, the worse 
these odds grow. Something has to crack. 

In point of fact, of course, something has already 
cracked— and it is the old insistence on permanence. 
Millions of men and women now adopt what appears 
to them to be a sensible and conservative strategy. 
Rather than opting for some offbeat variety of the 
family, they marry conventionally, they attempt to 
make it “work,” and then, when the paths of the 
partners diverge beyond an acceptable point, they 
divorce or depart. Most of them go on to search for a 
new partner whose developmental stage, at that mo- 
ment, matches their own. 

As human relationships grow more transient and 
modular, the pursuit of love becomes, if anything, 
more frenzied. But the temporal expectations change. 
As conventional marriage proves itself less and less 
capable of delivering on its promise of lifelong love, 
therefore, we can anticipate open public acceptance 
of temporary marriages. Instead of wedding “until 
death us do part,” couples will enter into matrimony 
knowing from the first that the relationship is likely 
to be short-lived. 

They will know, too, that when the paths of hus- 
band and wife diverge, when there is too great a 
discrepancy in developmental stages, they may call it 
quits— without shock or embarrassment, perhaps even 
without some of the pain that goes with divorce to- 
day. And when the opportunity presents itself, they 
will marry again . . . and again . . . and again. 

252 Novelty 

Serial marriage— a pattern of successive temporary 
marriages— is cut to order for the Age of Transience 
in which all man s relationships, all his ties with the 
environment, shrink in duration. It is the natural, the 
inevitable outgrowth of a social order in which au- 
tomobiles are rented, dolls traded in, and dresses 
discarded after one-time use. It is the mainstream 
marriage pattern of tomorrow. 

In one sense, serial marriage is already the best 
kept family secret of the techno-societies. According 
to Professor Jessie Bernard, a world-prominent family 
sociologist, “Plural marriage is more extensive in our 
society today than it is in societies that permit polyg- 
amy— the chief difference being that we have institu- 
tionalized plural marriage serially or sequentially 
rather than contemporaneously.” Remarriage is al- 
ready so prevalent a practice that nearly one out of 
every four bridegrooms in America has been to the 
altar before. It is so prevalent that one IBM personnel 
man reports a poignant incident involving a divorced 
woman, who, in filling out a job application, paused 
when she came to the question of marital status. She 
put her pencil in her mouth, pondered for a moment, 
then wrote: “Unremarried.” 

Transience necessarily affects the durational expect- 
ancies with which persons approach new situations. 
While they may yearn for a permanent relationship, 
something inside whispers to them that it is an in- 
creasingly improbable luxury. 

Even young people who most passionately seek 
commitment, profound involvement with people and 
causes, recognize the power of the thrust toward 
transience. Listen, for example, to a young black 
American, a civil-rights worker, as she describes her 
attitude toward time and marriage: 

“In the white world, marriage is always billed as 
‘the end’— like in a Hollywood movie. I don’t go for 
that. I can’t imagine myself promising my whole life- 
time away. I might want to get married now, but how 
about next year? That’s not disrespect for the institu- 


The Fractured Family 

tion [of marriage], but the deepest respect. In The 
[civil rights] Movement, you need to have a feeling 
for the temporary— of making something as good as 
you can, while it lasts. In conventional relationships, 
time is a prison.” 

Such attitudes will not be confined to the young, the 
few, or the politically active. They will whip across 
nations as novelty floods into the society and catch 
fire as the level of transience rises still higher. And 
along with them will come a sharp increase in the 
number of temporary— then serial— marriages. 

The idea is summed up vividly by a Swedish maga- 
zine, Svensk Damtidning, which interviewed a number 
of leading Swedish sociologists, legal experts, and 
others about the future of man-woman relationships. 
It presented its findings in five photographs. They 
showed the same beautiful bride being carried across 
the threshold five times— by five different bridegrooms. 


As serial marriages become more common, we shall 
begin to characterize people not in terms of their 
present marital status, but in terms of their marriage 
career or “trajectory.” This trajectory will be formed 
by the decisions they make at certain vital turning 
points in their lives. 

For most people, the first such juncture will arrive 
in youth, when they enter into “trial marriage.” Even 
now the young people of the United States and Europe 
are engaged in a mass experiment with probationary 
marriage, with or without benefit of ceremony. The 
staidest of United States universities are beginning to 
wink at the practice of co-ed housekeeping among 
their students. Acceptance of trial marriage is even 
growing among certain religious philosophers. Thus 
we hear the German theologian Siegfried Keil of 
Marburg University urge what he terms “recognized 
premarriage.” In Canada, Father Jacques Lazure has 

254 Novelty 

publicly proposed “probationary marriages” of three 
to eighteen months. 

In the past, social pressures and lack of money 
restricted experimentation with trial marriage to a 
relative handful. In the future, both these limiting 
forces will evaporate. Trial marriage will be the first 
step in the serial marriage “careers” that millions will 

A second critical life juncture for the people of the 
future will occur when the trial marriage ends. At this 
point, couples may choose to formalize their relation- 
ship and stay together into the next stage. Or they may 
terminate it and seek out new partners. In either case, 
they will then face several options. They may prefer 
to go childless. They may choose to have, adopt or 
“buy” one or more children. They may decide to raise 
these children themselves or to farm them out to pro- 
fessional parents. Such decisions will be made, by and 
large, in the early twenties— by which time many 
young adults will already be well into their second 

A third significant turning point in the marital 
career will come, as it does today, when the children 
finally leave home. The end of parenthood proves 
excruciating for many, particularly women who, once 
the children are gone, find themselves without a raison 
d’Stre. Even today divorces result from the failure of 
the couple to adapt to this traumatic break in continu- 

Among the more conventional couples of tomorrow 
who choose to raise their own children in the time- 
honored fashion, this will continue to be a particularly 
painful time. It will, however, strike earlier. Young 
people today already leave home sooner than their 
counterparts a generation ago. They will probably 
depart even earlier tomorrow. Masses of youngsters 
will move off, whether into trial marriage or not, in 
their mid-teens. Thus we may anticipate that the 
middle and late thirties will be another important 

The Fractured Family 255 

breakpoint in the marital careers of millions. Many at 
that juncture will enter into their third marriage. 

This third marriage will bring together two people 
for what could well turn out to be the longest uninter- 
rupted stretch of matrimony in their lives— from, say, 
the late thirties until one of the partners dies. This 
may, in fact, turn out to be the only “real” marriage, 
the basis of the only truly durable marital relationship. 
During this time two mature people, presumably with 
well-matched interests and complementary psycho- 
logical needs, and with a sense of being at comparable 
stages of personality development, will be able to 
look forward to a relationship with a decent statistical 
probability of enduring. 

Not all these marriages will survive until death, 
however, for the family will still face a fourth crisis 
point. This will come, as it does now for so many, 
when one or both of the partners retires from work. 
The abrupt change in daily routine brought about by 
this development places great strain on the couple. 
Some couples will go the path of the post-retirement 
family, choosing this moment to begin the task of 
raising children. This may overcome for them the 
vacuum that so many couples now face after reaching 
the end of their occupational lives. (Today many 
women go to work when they finish raising children; 
tomorrow many will reverse that pattern, working first 
and childrearing next.) Other couples will overcome 
the crisis of retirement in other ways, fashioning both 
together a new set of habits, interests and activities. 
Still others will find the transition too difficult, and 
will simply sever their ties and enter the pool of “in- 
betweens”— the floating reserve of temporarily unmar- 
ried persons. 

Of course, there will be some who, through luck, 
interpersonal skill and high intelligence, will find it 
possible to make long-lasting monogamous marriages 
work. Some will succeed, as they do today, in marry- 
ing for life and finding durable love and affection. But 
others will fail to make even sequential marriages 

256 Novelty 

endure for long. Thus some will try two or even three 
partners within, say, the final stage of marriage. Across 
the board, the average number of marriages per capita 
will rise— slowly but relentlessly. 

Most people will probably move forward along this 
progression, engaging in one “conventional” tempo- 
rary marriage after another. But with widespread 
familial experimentation in the society, the more dar- 
ing or desperate will make side forays into less con- 
ventional arrangements as well, perhaps experimenting 
with communal life at some point, or going it alone 
with a child. The net result will be a rich variation 
in the types of marital trajectories that people will 
trace, a wider choice of life-patterns, an endless oppor- 
tunity for novelty of experience. Certain patterns will 
be more common than others. But temporary marriage 
will be a standard feature, perhaps the dominant 
feature, of family life in the future. 


A world in which marriage is temporary rather than 
permanent, in which family arrangements are diverse 
and colorful, in which homosexuals may be acceptable 
parents and retirees start raising children— such a 
world is vastly different from our own. Today all boys 
and girls are expected to find life-long partners. In 
tomorrow’s world, being single will be no crime. Nor 
will couples be forced to remain imprisoned, as so 
many still are today, in marriages that have turned 
rancid. Divorce will be easy to arrange, so long as 
responsible provision is made for children. In fact, the 
very introduction of professional parenthood could 
touch off a great liberating wave of divorces by mak- 
ing it easier for adults to discharge their parental 
responsibilities without necessarily remaining in the 
cage of a hateful marriage. With this powerful ex- 
ternal pressure removed, those who stay together 
would be those who wish to stay together, those for 

The Fractured Family 257 

whom marriage is actively fulfilling— those, in short, 
who are in love. 

We are also likely to see, under this looser, more 
variegated family system, many more marriages in- 
volving partners of unequal age. Increasingly, older 
men will marry young girls or vice versa. What will 
count will not be chronological age, but complemen- 
tary values and interests and, above all, the level of 
personal development. To put it another way, partners 
will be interested not in age, but in stage. 

Children in this super-industrial society will grow 
up with an ever enlarging circle of what might be 
called “semi-siblings”— a whole clan of boys and girls 
brought into the world by their successive sets of 
parents. What becomes of such “aggregate” families 
will be fascinating to observe. Semi-sibs may turn out 
to be like cousins, today. They may help one another 
professionally or in time of need. But they will also 
present the society with novel problems. Should semi- 
sibs marry, for example? 

Surely, the whole relationship of the child to the 
family will be dramatically altered. Except perhaps in 
communal groupings, the family will lose what little 
remains of its power to transmit values to the younger 
generation. This will further accelerate the pace of 
change and intensify the problems that go with it. 

Looming over all such changes, however, and even 
dwarfing them in significance is something far more 
subtle. Seldom discussed, there is a hidden rhythm in 
human affairs that until now has served as one of the 
key stabilizing forces in society: the family cycle. 

We begin as children; we mature; we leave the 
parental nest; we give birth to children who, in turn, 
grow up, leave and begin the process all over again. 
This cycle has been operating so long, so automati- 
cally, and with such implacable regularity, that men 
have taken it for granted. It is part of the human 
landscape. Long before they reach puberty, children 
learn the part they are expected to play in keeping 
this great cycle turning. This predictable succession 

258 Novelty 

of family events has provided all men, of whatever 
tribe or society, with a sense of continuity, a place in 
the temporal scheme of things. The family cycle has 
been one of the sanity-preserving constants in human 

Today this cycle is accelerating. We grow up soon- 
er, leave home sooner, marry sooner, have children 
sooner. We space them more closely together and 
complete the period of parenthood more quickly. In 
the words of Dr. Bernice Neugarten, a University of 
Chicago specialist on family development, “The trend 
is toward a more rapid rhythm of events through most 
of the family cycle.” 

But if industrialism, with its faster pace of life, has 
accelerated the family cycle, super-industrialism now 
threatens to smash it altogether. With the fantasies 
that the birth scientists are hammering into reality, 
with the colorful familial experimentation that innova- 
tive minorities will perform, with the likely develop- 
ment of such institutions as professional parenthood, 
with the increasing movement toward temporary and 
serial marriage, we shall not merely run the cycle 
more rapidly; we shall introduce irregularity, suspense, 
unpredictability— in a word, novelty— into what was 
once as regular and certain as the seasons. 

When a “mother” can compress the process of birth 
into a brief visit to an embryo emporium, when by 
transferring embryos from womb to womb we can 
destroy even the ancient certainty that childbearing 
took nine months, children will grow up into a world 
in which the family cycle, once so smooth a d sure, 
will be jerkily arhythmic. Another crucial stabilizer 
will have been removed from the wreckage of the old 
order, another pillar of sanity broken. 

There is, of course, nothing inevitable about the 
developments traced in the preceding pages. We have 
it in our power to shape change. We may choose one 
future over another. We cannot, however, maintain 
the past. In our family forms, as in our economics, 

The Fractured Family 259 

science, technology and social relationships, we shall 
be forced to deal with the new. 

The Super-industrial Revolution will liberate men 
from many of the barbarisms that grew out of the 
restrictive, relatively choiceless family patterns of the 
past and present. It will offer to each a degree of 
freedom hitherto unknown. But it will exact a steep 
price for that freedom. 

As we hurtle into tomorrow, millions of ordinary 
men and women will face emotion-packed options so 
unfamiliar, so untested, that past experience will offer 
little clue to wisdom. In their family ties, as in all 
other aspects of their lives, they will be compelled to 
cope not merely with transience, but with the added 
problem of novelty as well. 

Thus, in matters both large and small, in the most 
public of conflicts and the most private of conditions, 
the balance between routine and non-routine, pre- 
dictable and non-predictable, the known and the un- 
known, will be altered. The novelty ratio will rise. 

In such an environment, fast-changing and unfamil- 
iar, we shall be forced, as we wend our way through 
life, to make our personal choices from a diverse array 
of options. And it is to the third central characteristic 
of tomorrow, diversity, that we must now turn. For it 
is the final convergence of these three factors— tran- 
sience, novelty and diversity— that sets the stage for the 
historic crisis of adaptation that is the subject of this 
book: future shock. 

Part Four: 


Chapter 12 


The Super-industrial Revolution will consign to the 
archives of ignorance most of what we now believe 
about democracy and the future of human choice. 

Today in the techno-societies there is an almost 
ironclad consensus about the future of freedom. Maxi- 
mum individual choice is regarded as the democratic 
ideal. Yet most writers predict that we shall move 
further and further from this ideal. They conjure up a 
dark vision of the future, in which people appear as 
mindless consumer-creatures, surrounded by standard- 
ized goods, educated in standardized schools, fed a 
diet of standardized mass culture, and forced to adopt 
standardized styles of life. 

Such predictions have spawned a generation of 
future-haters and technophobes, as one might expect. 
One of the most extreme of these is a French religious 
mystic, Jacques Ellul, vdiose books are enjoying a 
campus vogue. According to Ellul, man was far freer 
in the past when “Choice was a real possibility for 
him.” By contrast, today, “The human being is no 
longer in any sense the agent of choice.” And, as for 
tomorrow: “In the future, man will apparently be 
confined to the role of a recording device.” Robbed of 
choice, he will be acted upon, not active. He will live, 

264 Diversity 

Ellul warns, in a totalitarian state run by a velvet- 
gloved Gestapo. 

This same theme— the loss of choice— runs through 
much of the work of Arnold Toynbee. It is repeated 
by everyone from hippie gurus to Supreme Court 
justices, tabloid editorialists and existentialist philoso- 
phers. Put in its simplest form, this Theory of Vanish- 
ing Choice rests on a crude syllogism: Science and 
technology have fostered standardization. Science and 
technology will advance, making the future even more 
standardized than the present. Ergo: Man will progres- 
sively lose his freedom of choice. 

If instead of blindly accepting this syllogism, we 
stop to analyze it, however, we make an extraordinary 
discovery. For not only is the logic itself faulty, the 
entire idea is premised on sheer factual ignorance 
about the nature, the meaning and the direction of the 
Super-industrial Revolution. 

Ironically, the people of the future may suffer not 
from an absence of choice, but from a paralyzing 
surfeit of it. They may turn out to be victims of that 
peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: overchoice. 


No person traveling across Europe or the United 
States can fail to be impressed by the architectural 
similarity of one gas station or airport to another. Any- 
one thirsting for a soft drink will find one bottle of 
Coca-Cola to be almost identical with the next. Clearly 
a consequence of mass production techniques, the uni- 
formity of certain aspects of our physical environment 
has long outraged intellectuals. Some decry the Hilton- 
ization of our hotels; others charge that we are 
homogenizing the entire human race. 

Certainly, it would be difficult to deny that indus- 
trialism has had a leveling effect. Our ability to 
produce millions of nearly identical units is the crown- 
ing achievement of the industrial age. Thus, when 


The Origins of Overchoice 

intellectuals bewail the sameness of our material 
goods, they accurately reflect the state of affairs under 

In the same breath, however, they reveal shocking 
ignorance about the character of super-industrialism. 
Focused on what society was, they are blind to what 
it is fast becoming. For the society of the future will 
offer not a restricted, standardized flow of goods, but 
the greatest variety of unstandardized goods and 
services any society has ever seen. We are moving not 
toward a further extension of material standardization, 
but toward its dialectical negation. 

The end of standardization is already in sight. The 
pace varies from industry to industry, and from coun- 
try to country. In Europe, the peak of standardization 
has not yet been crested. ( It may take another twenty 
or thirty years to run its course. ) But in the United 
States, there is compelling evidence that a historic 
corner has been turned. 

Some years ago, for example, an American market- 
ing expert named Kenneth Schwartz made a surpris- 
ing discovery. “It is nothing less than a revolutionary 
transformation that has come over the mass consumer 
market during the past five years,” he wrote. “From a 
single homogenous unit, the mass market has exploded 
into a series of segmented, fragmented markets, each 
with its own needs, tastes and way of life.” This fact 
has begun to alter American industry beyond recogni- 
tion. The result is an astonishing change in the actual 
outpouring of goods offered to the consumer. 

Philip Morris, for example, sold a single major brand 
of cigarettes for twenty-one years. Since 1954 by 
contrast, it has introduced six new brands and so many 
options with respect to size, filter and menthol that 
the smoker now has a choice among sixteen different 
variations. This fact would be trivial, were it not 
duplicated in virtually every major product field. Gas- 
oline? Until a few years ago, the American motorist 
took his pick of either “regular” or “premium.” Today 
he drives up to a Sunoco pump and is asked to choose 

266 Diversity 

among eight different blends and mixes. Groceries? 
Between 1950 and 1963 the number of different soaps 
and detergents on the American grocery shelf in- 
creased from sixty-five to 200; frozen foods from 121 
to 350; baking mixes and flour from eighty-four to 
200. Even the variety of pet foods increased from 
fifty-eight to eighty-one. 

One major company, Corn Products, produces a 
pancake syrup called Karo. Instead of offering the 
same product nationally, however, it sells two different 
viscosities, having found that Pennsylvanians, for some 
regional reason, prefer their syrup thicker than other 
Americans. In the field of office decor and furniture, 
the same process is at work. “There are ten times the 
new styles and colors there were a decade ago, says 
John A. Saunders, president of General Fireproofing 
Company, a major manufacturer in the ^field. Every 
architect wants his own shade of green. Companies, 
in other words, are discovering wide variations in 
consumer wants and are adapting their production 
lines to accommodate them. Two economic factors 
encourage this trend: first, consumers have more 
money to lavish on their specialized wants; second, 
and even more important, as technology becomes 
more sophisticated, the cost of introducing variations 

cls0 cl/XTl&S • 

This is the point that our social critics-most of 
whom are technologically naive-fail to understand: 
it is only primitive technology that imposes stan- 
dardization. Automation, in contrast, frees the path to 
endless, blinding, mind-numbing diversity. 

“The rigid uniformity and long runs of identical 
products which characterize our traditional mass pro- 
duction plants are becoming less important reports 
industrial engineer Boris Yavitz. “Numerically con- 
trolled machines can readily shift from one product 
model or size to another by a simple change of pro- 
grams . . . Short product runs become economically 
feasible.” According to Professor Van Court Hare, 
Jr., of the Columbia University Graduate School ot 


The Origins of Overchoice 

Business, “Automated equipment . . . permits the 
production of a wide variety of products in short runs 
at almost ‘mass production’ costs.” Many engineers 
and business experts foresee the day when diversity 
will cost no more than uniformity. 

The finding that pre-automation technology yields 
standardization, while advanced technology permits 
diversity is borne out by even a casual look at that 
controversial American innovation, the supermarket. 
Like gas stations and airports, supermarkets tend to 
look alike whether they are in Milan or Milwaukee. 
By wiping out thousands of little “mom and pop” 
stores they have without doubt contributed to uni- 
formity in the architectural environment. Yet the 
array of goods they offer the consumer is incompa- 
rably more diverse than any corner store could afford 
to stock. Thus at the very moment that they encour- 
age architectural sameness, they foster gastronomic 

The reason for this contrast is simple:* Food and 
food packaging technology is far more advanced than 
construction techniques. Indeed, construction has 
scarcely reached the level of mass production; it re- 
mains, in large measure, a pre-industrial craft. Stran- 
gled by local building codes and conservative trade 
unions, the industry’s rate of technological advance 
is far below that of other industries. The more ad- 
vanced the technology, the cheaper it is to introduce 
variation in output. We can safely predict, therefore, 
that when the construction industry catches up with 
manufacture in technological sophistication, gas sta- 
tions, airports, and hotels, as well as supermarkets, 
will stop looking as if they had been poured from 
the same mold. Uniformity will give way to diver- 

° Where the process has begun, the results are striking. In 
Washington, D.C., for example, there is a computer-designed 
apartment house— Watergate East— in which no two floors are 
alike. Of 240 apartments, 167 have different floor plans. And 
there are no continuous straight lines in the building anywhere. 

268 Diversity 

While certain parts of Europe and Japan are still 
building their first all-purpose supermarkets, the 
United States has already leaped to the next stage— 
the creation of specialized super-stores that widen still 
further (indeed, almost beyond belief) the variety 
of goods available to the consumer. In Washington, 
D.C., one such store specializes in foreign foods, of- 
fering such delicacies as hippopotamus steak, alliga- 
tor meat, wild snow hare, and thirty-five different 
kinds of honey. 

The idea that primitive industrial techniques foster 
uniformity, while advanced automated techniques 
favor diversity, is dramatized by recent changes in 
the automobile industry. The widespread introduc- 
tion of European and Japanese cars into the American 
market in the late 1950’s opened many new options 
for the buyer— increasing his choice from half a dozen 
to some fifty makes. Today even this wide range of 
choice seems narrow and constricted. 

Faced with foreign competition, Detroit took a new 
look at the so-called “mass consumer.” It found not 
a single uniform mass market, but an aggregation of 
transient mini-markets. It also found, as one writer 
put it, that “customers wanted custom-like cars that 
would give them an illusion of having one-of-a-kind.” 
To provide that illusion would have been impossible 
with the old technology; the new computerized as- 
sembly systems, however, make possible not merely 
the illusion, but even— before long— the reality. 

Thus the beautiful and spectacularly successful 
Mustang is promoted by Ford as “the one you design 
yourself,” because, as critic Reyner Banham explains, 
there “isn’t a dung-regular Mustang any more, just a 
stockpile of options to meld in combinations of 3 
(bodies) X 4 (engines) X 3 (transmissions) X 4 
(basic sets of high-performance engine modifica- 
tions) — I (rock-bottom six cylinder car to which 
these modifications don’t apply) + 2 (Shelby grand- 
touring and racing set-ups applying to only one body 
shell and not all engine/ transmission combinations).” 


The Origins of Overchoice 

This does not even take into account the possible 
variations in color, upholstery and optional equip- 

Both car buyers and auto salesmen are increasingly 
disconcerted by the sheer multiplicity of options. The 
buyers problem of choice has become far more com- 
plicated, the addition of each option creating the 
need for more information, more decisions and sub- 
decisions. Thus, anyone who has attempted to buy a 
car lately, as I have, soon finds that the task of learn- 
ing about the various brands, lines, models and op- 
tions (even within a fixed price range) requires days 
of shopping and reading. In short, the auto industry 
may soon reach the point at which its technology can 
economically produce more diversity than the con- 
sumer needs or wants. 

Yet we are only beginning the march toward de- 
standardization of our material culture. Marshall 
McLuhan has noted that “Even today, most United 
States automobiles are, in a sense, custom-produced. 
Figuring all possible combinations of styles, options 
and colors available on a certain new family sports 
car, for example, a computer expert came up with 
25,000,000 different versions of it for a buyer . . . 
When automated electronic production reaches full 
potential, it will be just about as cheap to turn out a 
million differing objects as a million exact duplicates. 
The only limits on production and consumption will 
be the human imagination.” Many of McLuhan’s 
other assertions are highly debatable. This one is 
not. He is absolutely correct about the direction in 
which technology is moving. The material goods of 
the future will be many things; but they will not be 
standardized. We are, in fact, racing toward “over- 
choice”— the point at which the advantages of diver- 
sity and individualization are cancelled by the com- 
plexity of the buyer’s decision-making process. 




Does any of this matter? Some people argue that di- 
versity in the material environment is insignificant 
so long as we are racing toward cultural or spiritual 
homogeneity. “It’s what’s inside that counts,” they 
say, paraphrasing a well-known cigarette commer- 

This view gravely underestimates the importance 
of material goods as symbolic expressions of human 
personality differences, and it foolishly denies a con- 
nection between the inner and outer environment. 
Those who fear the standardization of human beings 
should warmly welcome the destandardization of 
goods. For by increasing the diversity of goods 
available to man we increase the mathematical prob- 
ability of differences in the way men actually live. 

More important, however, is the very premise that 
we are racing toward cultural homogeneity, since a 
close look at this also suggests that just the opposite 
is true. It is unpopular to say this, but we are moving 
swiftly toward fragmentation and diversity not only 
in material production, but in art, education and mass 
culture as well. 

One highly revealing test of cultural diversity in 
any literate society has to do with the number of dif- 
ferent books published per million of population. The 
more standardized the tastes of the public, the fewer 
titles will be published per million; the more diverse 
these tastes, the greater the number of titles. The in- 
crease or decrease of this figure over time is a signifi- 
cant clue to the direction of cultural change in the 
society. This was the reasoning behind a study of 
world book trends published by UNESCO. Conduct- 
ed by Robert Escarpit director of the Center for the 
Sociology of Literature at the University of Bordeaux, 
it provided dramatic evidence of a powerful interna- 
tional shift toward cultural destandardization. 


The Origins of Overchoice 

Thus, between 1952 and 1962 the index of diversity 
rose in fully twenty-one of the twenty-nine chief book- 
producing nations. Among the countries registering 
the highest shifts toward literary diversity were Can- 
ada, the United States and Sweden, all with increases 
in excess of 50 percent or more. The United Kingdom, 
France, Japan and the Netherlands all moved from 
10 to 25 percent in the same direction. The eight 
countries that moved in the opposite direction— i.e., 
toward greater standardization of literary output— 
were India, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Poland, Yugo- 
slavia, Belgium, and Austria. In short, the more ad- 
vanced the technology in a country, the greater the 
likelihood that it would be moving in the direction of 
literary diversity and away from uniformity. 

The same push toward pluralism is evident in paint- 
ing, too, where we find an almost incredibly wide 
spectrum of production. Representationalism, expres- 
sionism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, hard- 
edge, pop, kinetic, and a hundred other styles are 
pumped into the society at the same time. One or 
another may dominate the galleries temporarily, but 
there are no universal standards or styles. It is a 
pluralistic marketplace. 

When art was a tribal-religious activity, the paint- 
er worked for the whole community. Later he worked 
for a single small aristocratic elite. Still later the au- 
dience appeared as a single undifferentiated mass. 
Today he faces a large audience split into a milling 
mass of sub-groups. According to John McHale: “The 
most uniform cultural contexts are typically primitive 
enclaves. The most striking feature of our contem- 
porary ‘mass’ culture is the vast range and diversity of 
its alternative cultural choices . . . The ‘mass,’ on even 
cursory examination, breaks down into many differ- 
ent ‘audiences.’ ” 

Indeed, artists no longer attempt to work for a 
universal public. Even when they think they are do- 
ing so, they are usually responding to the tastes and 
styles preferred by one or another sub-group in the 

272 Diversity 

society. Like the manufacturers of pancake syrup and 
automobiles, artists, too, produce for “mini-markets.” 
And as these markets multiply, artistic output diver- 

The push for diversity, meanwhile, is igniting bit- 
ter conflict in education. Ever since the rise of 
industrialism, education in the West, and particularly 
in the United States, has been organized for the mass 
production of basically standardized educational 
packages. It is not accidental that at the precise mo- 
ment when the consumer has begun to demand and 
obtain greater diversity, the same moment when new 
technology promises to make destandardization pos- 
sible, a wave of revolt has begun to sweep the college 
campus. Though the connection is seldom noticed, 
events on the campus and events in the consumer 
market are intimately connected. 

One basic complaint of the student is that he is not 
treated as an individual, that he is served up an un- 
differentiated gruel, rather than a personalized prod- 
uct. Like the Mustang buyer, the student wants to 
design his own. The difference is that while industry 
is highly responsive to consumer demand, education 
typically has been indifferent to student wants. (In 
one case we say, “the customer knows best”; in the 
other, we insist that “Papa— or his educational sur- 
rogate— knows best.”) Thus the student-consumer is 
forced to fight to make the education industry re- 
sponsive to his demand for diversity. 

While most colleges and universities have greatly 
broadened the variety of their course offerings, they 
are still wedded to complex standardizing systems 
based on degrees, majors and the like. These systems 
lay down basic tracks along which all students must 
progress. While educators are rapidly multiplying the 
number of alternative paths, the pace of diversifica- 
tion is by no means swift enough for the students. 
This explains why young people have set up “para- 
universities”— experimental colleges and so-called free 
universities— in which each student is free to choose 


The Origins of Overchoice 

what he wishes from a mind-shattering smorgasbord 
of courses that range from guerrilla tactics and stock 
market techniques to Zen Buddhism and “under- 
ground theater.” 

Long before the year 2000, the entire antiquated 
structure of degrees, majors and credits will be a 
shambles. No two students will move along exactly 
the same educational track. For the students now 
pressuring higher education to destandardize, to 
move toward super-industrial diversity, will win their 

It is significant, for example, that one of the chief 
results of the student strike in France was a massive 
decentralization of the university system. Decen- 
tralization makes possible greater regional diversity, 
local authority to alter curriculum, student regula- 
tions and administrative practices. 

A parallel revolution is brewing in the public 
schools as well. It has already flared into open vio- 
lence. Like the disturbance at Berkeley that initiated 
the worldwide wave of student protest, it has begun 
with something that appears at first glimpse to be a 
purely local issue. 

Thus New York City, whose public education 
system encompasses nearly 900 schools and is respon- 
sible for one out of every forty American public 
school pupils, has suffered the worst teachers’ strike 
in history— precisely over the issue of decentralization. 
Teacher picket lines, parent boycotts, and near riot 
have become everyday occurrences in the city’s 
schools. Angered by the ineffectiveness of the schools, 
and by what they rightfully regard as blatant race 
prejudice, black parents, backed by various commu- 
nity forces, have demanded that the entire school sys- 
tem be cut up into smaller “community-run” school 

In effect, New York’s black population, having 
failed to achieve racial integration and quality educa- 
tion, wants its own school system. It wants courses 
in Negro history. It wants greater parental involve- 

274 Diversity 

ment with the schools than is possible in the present 
large, bureaucratic and ossified system. It claims, in 
short, the right to be different. 

The essential issues far transcend racial prejudice, 
however. Until now the big urban school systems 
in the United States have been powerful homogeniz- 
ing influences. By fixing city-wide standards and cur- 
ricula, by choosing texts and personnel on a city-wide 
basis, they have imposed considerable uniformity on 
the schools. 

Today, the pressure for decentralization, which has 
already spread to Detroit, Washington, Milwaukee, 
and other major cities in the United States (and 
which will, in different forms, spread to Europe as 
well), is an attempt not simply to improve the educa- 
tion of Negroes, but to smash the very idea of cen- 
tralized, city-wide school policies. It is an attempt to 
generate local variety in public education by turning 
over control of the schools to local authorities. It is, 
in short, part of a larger struggle to diversify educa- 
tion' in the last third of the twentieth century. That 
the effort has been temporarily blocked in New York, 
largely through the stubborn resistance of an en- 
trenched trade union, does not mean that the historic 
forces pushing toward destandardization will forever 
be contained. 

Failure to diversify education within the system 
will simply lead to the growth of alternative educa- 
tional opportunities outside the system. Thus we have 
today the suggestions of prominent educators and 
sociologists, including Kenneth B. Clark and Christo- 
pher Jencks, for the creation of new schools outside 
of, and competitive with, the official public school 
systems. Clark has called for regional and state 
schools, federal schools, schools run by colleges, trade 
unions, corporations and even military units. Such 
competing schools would, he contends, help create 
the diversity that education desperately needs. Simul- 
taneously, in a less formal way, a variety of “para- 
schools” are already being established by hippie com- 

The Origins of Overchoice 275 

munes and other groups who find the mainstream 
educational system too homogeneous. 

We see here, therefore, a major cultural force in 
the society— education— being pushed to diversify its 
output, exactly as the economy is doing. And here, 
exactly as in the realm of material production, the 
new technology, rather than fostering standardization, 
carries us toward super-industrial diversity. 

Computers, for example, make it easier for a large 
school to schedule more flexibly. They make it easier 
for the school to cope with independent study, with 
a wider range of course offerings and more varied 
extracurricular activities. More important, computer- 
assisted education, programmed instruction and other 
such techniques, despite popular misconceptions, rad- 
ically enhance the possibility of diversity in the class- 
room. They permit each student to advance at his 
own purely personal pace. They permit him to follow 
a custom-cut path toward knowledge, rather than a 
rigid syllabus as in the traditional industrial era class- 

Moreover, in the educational world of tomorrow, 
that relic of mass production, the centralized work 
place, will also become less important. Just as eco- 
nomic mass production required large numbers of 
workers to be assembled in factories, educational 
mass production required large numbers of students 
to be assembled in schools. This itself, with its de- 
mands for uniform discipline, regular hours, attend- 
ance checks and the like, was a standardizing force. 
Advanced technology will, in the future, make much 
of this unnecessary. A good deal of education will 
take place in the student’s own room at home or in 
a dorm, at hours of his own choosing. With vast li- 
braries of data available to him via computerized 
information retrieval systems, with his own tapes and 
video units, his own language laboratory and his own 
electronically equipped study carrel, he will be freed, 
for much of the time, of the restrictions and unpleas- 
antness that dogged him in the lockstep classroom. 

276 Diversity 

The technology upon which these new freedoms 
will be based will inevitably spread through the 
schools in the years ahead— aggressively pushed, no 
doubt, by major corporations like IBM, RCA, and 
Xerox. Within thirty years, the educational systems 
of the United States, and several Western European 
countries as well, will have broken decisively with the 
mass production pedagogy of the past, and will have 
advanced into an era of educational diversity based 
on the liberating power of the new machines. 

In education, therefore, as in the production of 
material goods, the society is shifting irresistibly away 
from, rather than toward, standardization. It is not 
simply a matter of more varied automobiles, deter- 
gents and cigarettes. The social thrust toward diver- 
sity and increased individual choice affects our 
mental, as well as our material surroundings. 

“drag queen” movies 

Of all the forces accused of homogenizing the mod- 
ern mind, few have been so continuously and bitterly 
criticized as the mass media. Intellectuals in the 
United States and Europe have lambasted television, 
in particular, for standardizing speech, habits, and 
tastes. They have pictured it as a vast lawnroller 
flattening out our regional differences, crushing the 
last vestiges of cultural variety. A thriving academic 
industry has leveled similar charges against maga- 
zines and movies. 

While there is truth in some of these charges, they 
overlook critically important counter-trends that gen- 
erate diversity, not standardization. Television, with 
its high costs of production and its limited number 
of channels, is still necessarily dependent upon very 
large audiences. But in almost every other commu- 
nications medium we can trace a decreasing reliance 
on mass audiences. Everywhere the “market segmen- 
tation” process is at work. 


The Origins of Overchoice 

A generation ago, American movie-goers saw al- 
most nothing but Hollywood-made films aimed at 
capturing the so-called mass audience. Today in cities 
across the country these “mainstream” movies are 
supplemented by foreign movies, art films, sex movies, 
and a whole stream of specialized motion pictures 
consciously designed to appeal to sub-markets— surf- 
ers, hot-rodders, motorcyclists, and the like. Output is 
so specialized that it is even possible, in New York 
at least, to find a theater patronized almost exclu- 
sively by homosexuals who watch the antics of trans- 
vestites and “drag queens” filmed especially for them. 

All this helps account for the trend toward smaller 
movie theaters in the United States and Europe. Ac- 
cording to the Economist, “The days of the 4000-seat- 
er Trocadero . . . are over . . . The old-style mass 
cinema audience of regular once-a-weekers has gone 
for good.” Instead, multiple small audiences turn out 
for particular kinds of films, and the economics of the 
industry are up-ended. Thus Cinecenta has opened a 
cluster of four 150-seat theaters on a single site in 
London, and other exhibitors are planning midget 
movie houses. Once again, advanced technology fos- 
ters dehomogenization: the development of in-flight 
movies has led to new low-cost 16 mm. projection 
systems that are made to order for the mini-movie. 
They require no projectionist and only a single ma- 
chine, instead of the customary two. United Artists 
is marketing these “cineautomats” on a franchise 

Radio, too, though still heavily oriented toward 
the mass market, shows some signs of differentiation. 
Some American stations beam nothing but classical 
music to upper-income, high education listeners, 
while others specialize in news, and still others in 
rock music. (Rock stations are rapidly subdividing 
into still finer categories: some aim their fare for 
the under-eighteen market; others for a somewhat 
older group; still others for Negroes.) There are even 
rudimentary attempts to set up radio stations pro- 

278 Diversity 

gramming solely for a single profession— physicians, 
for example. In the future, we can anticipate net- 
works that broadcast for such specialized occupation- 
al groups as engineers, accountants and attorneys. 
Still later, there will be market segmentation not 
simply along occupational lines, but along socio- 
economic and psycho-social lines as well. 

It is in publishing, however, that the signs of de- 
standardization are most unmistakable. Until the rise 
of television, mass magazines were the chief stan- 
dardizing media in most countries. Carrying the same 
fiction, the same articles and the same advertisements 
to hundreds of thousands, even millions of homes, 
they rapidly spread fashions, political opinions and 
styles. Like radio broadcasters and moviemakers, 
publishers tended to seek the largest and most uni- 
versal audience. 

The competition of television killed off a number 
of major American magazines such as Colliers and 
Womans Home Companion. Those mass market pub- 
lications that have survived the post-TV shake-up 
have done so, in part, by turning themselves into a 
collection of regional and segmentalized editions. 
Between 1959 and 1969, the number of American 
magazines offering specialized editions jumped from 
126 to 235. Thus every large circulation magazine in 
the United States today prints slightly different edi- 
tions for different regions of the country— some pub- 
lishers offering as many as one hundred variations. 
Special editions are also addressed to occupational 
and other groups. The 80,000 physicians and dentists 
who receive Time each week get a somewhat differ- 
ent magazine than that received by teachers whose 
edition, in turn, is different from that sent to college 
students. These “demographic editions” are growing 
increasingly refined and specialized. In short, mass 
magazine publishers are busily destandardizing, di- 
versifying their output exactly as the automakers and 
appliance manufacturers have done. 

Furthermore, the rate of new magazine births has 


The Origins of Overchoice 

shot way up. According to the Magazine Publishers 
Association, approximately four new magazines have 
come into being for every one that died during the 
past decade. Every week sees a new small-circulation 
magazine on the stands or in the mails, magazines 
aimed at mini-markets of surfers, scuba-divers and 
senior citizens, at hot-rodders, credit-card holders, 
skiers and jet passengers. A varied crop of teenage 
magazines has sprung up, and most recently we have 
witnessed something no “mass society” pundit would 
have dared predict a few years ago: a rebirth of local 
monthlies. Today scores of American cities such as 
Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Diego and Atlanta, boast 
fat, slick, well-supported new magazines devoted en- 
tirely to local or regional matters. This is hardly a 
sign of the erosion of differences. Rather, we are 
getting a richer mix, a far greater choice of magazines 
than ever before. And, as the UNESCO survey 
showed, the same is true of books. 

The number of different titles published each year 
has risen so sharply, and is now so large (more than 
30,000 in the United States) that one suburban 
matron has complained, “It’s getting hard to find 
someone who’s read the same book as you. How can 
you even carry on a conversation about reading?” 
She may be overstating the case, but book clubs, 
for example, are finding it increasingly more difficult 
to choose monthly selections that appeal to large 
numbers of divergent readers. 

Nor is the process of media differentiation confined 
to commercial publishing alone. Non-commercial lit- 
erary magazines are proliferating. “Never in Amer- 
ican history have there been as many such magazines 
as there are today,” reports The New York Times 
Book Review. Similarly, “underground newspapers” 
have sprung up in dozens of American and European 
cities. There are at least 200 of these in the United 
States, many of them supported by advertising placed 
by leading record manufacturers. Appealing chiefly 
to hippies, campus radicals and the rock audience, 

280 Diversity 

they have become a tangible force in the formation 
of opinion among the young. From London’s IT and 
the East Village Other in New York, to the Kudzu 
in Jackson, Mississippi, they are heavily illustrated, 
often color-printed, and jammed with ads for “psy- 
chedelicatessens” and dating services. Underground 
papers are even published in high schools. To ob- 
serve the growth of these grass-roots publications and 
to speak of “mass culture” or “standardization” is to 
blind oneself to the new realities. 

Significantly, this thrust toward media diversity 
is based not on affluence alone, but, as we have seen 
before, on the new technology— the very machines 
that are supposedly going to homogenize us and 
crush all vestiges of variety. Advances in offset print- 
ing and xerography have radically lowered the costs 
of short-run publishing, to the point at which high 
school students can (and do) finance publication of 
their underground press with pocket money. Indeed, 
the office copying machine— some versions selling 
now for as little as thirty dollars— makes possible such 
extremely short production runs that, as McLuhan 
puts it, every man can now be his own publisher. In 
America, where the office copying machine is almost 
as universal as the adding machine, it would appear 
that every man is. The rocketing number of periodi- 
cals that land on one’s desk is dramatic testimony 
to the ease of publication. 

Meanwhile, hand-held cameras and new video-tape 
equipment are similarly revolutionizing the ground 
rules of cinema. New technology has put camera and 
film into the hands of thousands of students and ama- 
teurs, and the underground movie— crude, colorful, 
perverse, highly individualized and localized— is 
flourishing even more than the underground press. 

These technological advances have their analog in 
audio commmunications, too, where the omnipres- 
ence of tape recorders permits every man to be his 
own “broadcaster.” Andre Moosmann, chief Eastern 
European expert for Radio-Television Fran9aise, re- 


The Origins of Overchoice 

ports the existence of widely known pop singers in 
Russia and Poland who have never appeared on 
radio or television, but whose songs and voices have 
been popularized through the medium of tape re- 
cordings alone. Tapings of Bulat Okudzava’s songs, 
for example, pass from hand to hand, each listener 
making his own duplicate— a process that totalitarian 
governments find difficult to prevent or police. “It 
goes quickly,” says Moosmann, “if a man makes one 
tape and a friend makes two, the rate of increase can 
be very fast.” 

Radicals have often complained that the means of 
communication are monopolized by a few. Sociologist 
C. Wright Mills went so far, if my memory is correct, 
as to urge cultural workers to take over the means of 
communication. This turns out to be hardly necessary. 
The advance of communications technology is quietly 
and rapidly de-monopolizing communications without 
a shot being fired. The result is a rich destandardiza- 
tion of cultural output. 

Television, therefore, may still be homogenizing 
taste; but the other media have already passed be- 
yond the technological state at which standardization 
is necessary. When technical breakthroughs alter the 
economics of television by providing more channels 
and lowering costs of production, we can anticipate 
that that medium, too, will begin to fragment its 
output and cater to, rather than counter, the increas- 
ing diversity of the consuming public. Such break- 
throughs are, in fact, closer than the horizon. The 
invention of electronic video recording, the spread of 
cable television, the possibility of broadcasting direct 
from satellite to cable systems, all point to vast in- 
creases in program variety. For it should now be 
clear that tendencies toward uniformity represent 
only one stage in the development of any technology. 
A dialectical process is at work, and we are on the 
edge of a long leap toward unparalleled cultural di- 

The day is already in sight when books, magazines, 

282 Diversity 

newspapers, films and other media will, like the Mus- 
tang, be offered to the consumer on a design-it-your- 
self basis. Thus in the mid-sixties, Joseph Naughton, 
a mathematician and computer specialist at the 
University of Pittsburgh, suggested a system that 
would store a consumer’s profile— data about his oc- 
cupation and interests— in a central computer. Ma- 
chines would then scan newspapers, magazines, 
video tapes, films and other material, match them 
against the individual’s interest profile, and instan- 
taneously notify him when something appears that 
concerns him. The system could be hitched to fac- 
simile machines and TV transmitters that would ac- 
tually display or print out the material in his own 
living room. By 1969 the Japanese daily Asahi Shim- 
bun was publicly demonstrating a low cost “Tele- 
news” system for printing newspapers in the home, 
and Matsushita Industries of Osaka was displaying a 
competitive system known as TV Fax (H). These 
are the first steps toward the newspaper of the future 
—a peculiar newspaper, indeed, offering no two view- 
er-readers the same content. Mass communication, 
under a system like this, is “de-massified.” We move 
from homogeneity to heterogeneity. 

It is obstinate nonsense to insist, in the face of all 
this, that the machines of tomorrow will turn us into 
robots, steal our individuality, eliminate cultural 
variety, etc., etc. Because primitive mass production 
imposed certain uniformities, does not mean that 
super-industrial machines will do the same. The fact 
is that the entire thrust of the future carries away 
from standardization— away from uniform goods, 
away from homogenized art, mass produced educa- 
tion and “mass” culture. We have reached a dialecti- 
cal turning point in the technological development of 
society. And technology, far from restricting our in- 
dividuality, will multiply our choices— and our free- 
dom— exponentially. 

Whether man is prepared to cope with the 
increased choice of material and cultural wares avail- 


The Origins of Overchoice 

able to him is, however, a totally different question. 
For there comes a time when choice, rather than 
freeing the individual, becomes so complex, difficult 
and costly, that it turns into its opposite. There comes 
a time, in short, when choice turns into overchoice 
and freedom into un-freedom. 

To understand why, we must go beyond this 
examination of our expanding material and cultural 
choice. We must look at what is happening to social 
choice as well. 

Chapter 13 


Thirty miles north of New York City, within easy 
reach of its towers, its traffic and its urban tempta- 
tions, lives a young taxicab driver, a former soldier, 
who boasts 700 surgical stitches in his body. These 
stitches are not the result of combat wounds, nor 
of an accident involving his taxi. Instead, they are 
the result of his chief recreation: rodeo riding. 

On a cab driver’s modest salary, this man spends 
more than $1200 a year to own a horse, stable it, and 
keep it in perfect trim. Periodically hitching a horse- 
trailer to his auto, he drives a little over one hundred 
miles to a place outside Philadelphia called “Cow 
Town.” There, with others like himself, he partici- 
pates in roping, steer wrestling, bronco busting, and 
other strenuous contests, the chief prize of which have 
been repeated visits to a hospital emergency ward. 

Despite its proximity, New York holds no fascina- 
tion for this fellow. When I met him he was twenty- 
three, and he had visited it only once or twice in his 
life. His entire interest is focused on the cow ring, 
and he is a member of a tiny group of rodeo fanatics 
who form a little-known underground in the United 
States. They are not professionals who earn a living 
from this atavistic sport. Nor are they simply people 
who affect Western-style boots, hats, denim jackets 

A Surfeit of Subcults 285 

and leather belts. They are a tiny, but authentic 
subcult lost within the vastness and complexity of 
the most highly technological civilization in the 

This odd group not only engages the cab drivers 
passion, it consumes his time and money. It affects 
his family, his friends, his ideas. It provides a set of 
standards against which he measures himself. In short, 
it rewards him with something that many of us have 
difficulty finding: an identity. 

The techno-societies, far from being drab and 
homogenized, are honeycombed with just such col- 
orful groupings— hippies and hot rodders, theoso- 
phists and flying saucer fans, skin-divers and sky- 
divers, homosexuals, computemiks, vegetarians, body- 
builders and Black Muslims. 

Today the hammerblows of the super-industrial rev- 
olution are literally splintering the society. We are 
multiplying these social enclaves, tribes and mini- 
cults among us almost as fast as we are multiplying 
automotive options. The same destandardizing forces 
that make for greater individual choice with respect 
to products and cultural wares, are also destandardiz- 
ing our social structures. This is why, seemingly over- 
night, new subcults like the hippies burst into being. 
We are, in fact, living through a “subcult explosion.” 

The importance of this cannot be overstated. For 
we are all deeply influenced, our identities are 
shaped, by the subcults with which we choose, un- 
consciously or not, to identify ourselves. It is easy to 
ridicule a hippie or an uneducated young man who is 
willing to suffer 700 stitches in an effort to test and 
“find” himself. Yet we are all rodeo riders or hippies 
in one sense: we, too, search for identity by attaching 
ourselves to informal cults, tribes or groups of various 
kinds. And the more numerous the choices, the more 
difficult the quest. 




The proliferation of subcults is most evident in the 
world of work. Many subcults spring up around 
occupational specialties. Thus, as the society moves 
toward greater specialization, it generates more and 
more subcultural variety. 

The scientific community, for example, is splitting 
into finer and finer fragments. It is criss-crossed with 
formal organizations and associations whose special- 
ized journals, conferences and meetings are rapidly 
multiplying in number. But these “open” distinctions 
according to subject matter are matched by “hidden” 
distinctions as well. It is not simply that cancer re- 
searchers and astronomers do different things; they 
talk different languages, tend to have different per- 
sonality types; they think, dress and live differently. 
(So marked are these distinctions that they often 
interfere with interpersonal relationships. Says a 
woman scientist: “My husband is a microbiologist 
and I am a theoretical physicist, and sometimes I 
wonder if we mutually exist.”) 

Scientists within a specialty tend to hang together 
with their own kind, forming themselves into tight 
little subcultural cells, to which they turn for ap- 
proval and prestige, as well as for guidance about 
such things as dress, political opinions, and life style. 

As science expands and the scientific population 
grows, new specialties spring up, fostering more and 
still more diversity at this “hidden” or informal level. 
In short, specialization breeds subcults. 

This process of cellular division within a profession 
is dramatically marked in finance. Wall Street was 
once a relatively homogeneous community. “It used 
to be,” says one prominent sociological observer of 
the money men, “that you came down here from St. 
Paul’s and you made a lot of money and belonged to 
the Racquet Club and you had an estate on the North 

A Surfeit of Subcults 287 

Shore, and your daughters were debutantes. You did 
it all by selling bonds to your ex-classmates.” The 
remark is perhaps slightly exaggerated, but Wall 
Street was, in fact, one big White Anglo-Saxon Prot- 
estant subcult, and its members did tend to go to 
the same schools, join the same clubs, engage in the 
same sports (tennis, golf and squash), attend the 
same churches (Presbyterian and Episcopalian), and 
vote for the same party (Republican). 

Anybody who still thinks of Wall Street in these 
terms, however, is getting his ideas from the novels 
of Auchincloss or Marquand rather than from the 
new, fast-changing reality. Today, Wall Street has 
splintered, and a young man entering the business 
has a choice of a whole clutch of competing subcul- 
tural affiliations. In investment banking the old con- 
servative WASP grouping still lingers on. There are 
still some old-line “white shoe” firms of which it is 
said “They’ll have a black partner before they hire 
a Jew.” Yet in the mutual fund field, a relatively new 
specialized segment of the financial industry, Greek, 
Jewish and Chinese names abound, and some star 
salesmen are black. Here the entire style of life, the 
implicit values of the group, are quite different. Mu- 
tual fund people are a separate tribe. 

“Not everyone even wants to be a WASP any more,” 
says a leading financial writer. Indeed, many young, 
aggressive Wall Streeters, even when they do happen 
to be WASP in origin, reject the classical Wall Street 
subcult and identify themselves instead with one 
or more of the pluralistic social groupings that now 
swarm and sometimes collide in the canyons of Lower 

As specialization continues, as research extends into 
new fields and probes more deeply into old ones, as 
the economy continues to create new technologies 
and services, subcults will continue to multiply. Those 
social critics who inveigh against “mass society” in 
one breath and denounce “over-specialization” in the 

288 Diversity 

next are simply flapping their tongues. Specialization 
means a movement away from sameness. 

Despite much loose talk about the need for “gen- 
eralists,” there is little evidence that the technology 
of tomorrow can be run without armies of highly 
trained specialists. We are rapidly changing the types 
of expertise needed. We are demanding more “multi- 
specialists” ( men who know one field deeply, but who 
can cross over into another as well) rather than rigid, 
“mono-specialists.” But we shall continue to need 
and breed ever more refined work specialties as the 
technical base of society increases in complexity. For 
this reason alone, we must expect the variety and 
number of subcults in the society to increase. 


Even if technology were to free millions of people 
from the need to work in the future, we would find 
the same push toward diversity operating among 
those who are left free to play. For we are already 
producing large numbers of “fun specialists.” We are 
rapidly multiplying not merely types of work, but 
types of play as well. 

The number of acceptable pastimes, hobbies, 
games, sports and entertainments is climbing rapidly, 
and the growth of a distinct subcult built around 
surfing, for example, demonstrates that, at least for 
some, a leisure-time commitment can also serve as 
the basis for an entire life style. The surfing subcult 
is a signpost pointing to the future. 

“Surfing has already developed a kind of symbolism 
that gives it the character of a secret fraternity or a 
religious order,” writes Remi Nadeau. “The identify- 
ing sign is a shark’s tooth, St. Christopher medal, or 
Maltese cross hung loosely about one’s neck . . . 
For a long time, the most accepted form of transpor- 
tation has been a wood-paneled Ford station wagon 
of ancient vintage.” Surfers display sores and nodules 

A Surfeit of Subcults 289 

on their knees and feet as proud proof of their in- 
volvement. Suntan is de rigeur. Hair is styled in a 
distinctive way. Members of the tribe spend endless 
hours debating the prowess of such in-group heroes 
as J. J. Moon, and his followers buy J. J. Moon T- 
shirts, surfboards, and fan club memberships. 

Surfers are only one of many such play-based sub- 
cults. Among skydivers, for example, the name J. J. 
Moon is virtually unknown, and so are the peculiar 
rituals and fashions of the wave-cresters. Skydivers 
talk, instead, about the feat of Rod Pack, who not 
long ago jumped from an airplane without a para- 
chute, was handed one by a companion in mid-air, 
put it on, opened it, and landed safely. Skydivers 
have their own little world, as do glider enthusiasts, 
scuba-divers, hot rodders, drag racers and motorcy- 
clists. Each of these represents a leisure-based subcult 
organized around a technological device. As the new 
technology makes new sports possible, we can antici- 
pate the formation of highly varied new play cults. 

Leisure-time pursuits will become an increasingly 
important basis for differences between people, as 
the society itself shifts from a work orientation toward 
greater involvement in leisure. In the United States, 
since the turn of the century alone, the society’s 
measurable commitment to work has plummeted by 
nearly a third. This is a massive redeployment of the 
society’s time and energy. As this commitment de- 
clines further, we shall advance into an era of breath- 
taking fun specialism— much of it based on sophisti- 
cated technology. 

We can anticipate the formation of subcults built 
around space activity, holography, mind-control, 
deep-sea diving, submarining, computer gaming and 
the like. We can even see on the horizon the creation 
of certain anti-social leisure cults— tightly organized 
groups of people who will disrupt the workings of 
society not for material gain, but for the sheer sport 
of “beating the system”— a development foreshadowed 
in such films as Duffy and The Thomas Crown Af- 

290 Diversity 

fair. Such groups may attempt to tamper with govern- 
mental or corporate computer programs, re-route mail, 
intercept and alter radio and television broadcasts, 
perform elaborately theatrical hoaxes, tinker with the 
stock market, corrupt the random samples upon 
which political or other polls are based, and even, 
perhaps, commit complexly plotted robberies and as- 
sassinations. Novelist Thomas Pvnchon in The Crying 
of Lot 49 describes a fictional underground group 
who have organized their own private postal system 
and maintained it for generations. Science fiction 
writer Robert Sheckley has gone so far as to propose, 
in a terrifying short story called The Seventh Victim, 
the possibility that society might legalize murder 
among certain specified “players” who hunt one an- 
other and are, in turn, hunted. This ultimate game 
would permit those who are dangerously violent to 
work off their aggressions within a managed frame- 

Bizarre as some of this may sound, it would be 
well not to rule out the seemingly improbable, for 
the realm of leisure, unlike that of work, is little 
constrained by practical considerations. Here imagi- 
nation has free play, and the mind of man can conjure 
up incredible varieties of “fun.” Given enough time, 
money and, for some of these, technical skill, the men 
of tomorrow will be capable of plaving in ways never 
dreamed of before. They w r ill play strange sexual 
games. They w T ill play games with the mind. They 
will play games with society. And in so doing, by 
choosing among the unimaginably broad options, they 
will form subcults and further set themselves off from 
one another. 


Subcults are multiplying— the society is cracking— 
along age lines, too. We are becoming “age special- 
ists” as well as work and play specialists. There was 

A Surfeit of Subcults 291 

a time when people were divided roughly into chil- 
dren, “young persons,” and adults. It wasn’t until the 
forties that the loosely defined term “young persons” 
began to be replaced by the more restrictive term 
“teenager,” referring specifically to the years thirteen 
to nineteen. ( In fact, the word was virtually unknown 
in England until after World War II.) 

Today this crude, three-way division is clearly in- 
adequate, and we are busy inventing far more spe- 
cific categories. We now have a classification called 
“pre-teens” or “sub-teens” that sits perched between 
childhood and adolescence. We are also beginning to 
hear of “post-teens” and, after that, “young marrieds.” 
Each of these terms is a linguistic recognition of the 
fact that we can no longer usefully lump all “young 
persons” together. Increasingly deep cleavages sepa- 
rate one age group from another. So sharp are these 
differences that sociologist John Lofland of the Uni- 
versity of Michigan predicts they will become the 
“conflict equivalent of southerner and northerner, 
capitalist and worker, immigrant and ‘native stock/ 
suffragette and male, white and Negro.” 

Lofland supports this startling suggestion by docu- 
menting the rise of what he calls the “youth ghetto”— 
large communities occupied almost entirely by college 
students. Like the Negro ghetto, the youth ghetto 
is often characterized by poor housing, rent and price 
gouging, very high mobility, unrest and conflict with 
the police. Like the Negro ghetto, it, too, is quite 
heterogeneous, with many subcults competing for 
the attention and allegiance of the ghettoites. 

Robbed of adult heroes or role models other than 
their own parents, children of streamlined, nuclear 
families are increasingly flung into the arms of the 
only other people available to them— other children. 
They spend more time with one another, and they 
become more responsive to the influence of peers 
than ever before. Rather than idolizing an uncle, they 
idolize Bob Dylan or Donovan or whomever else the 
peer group holds up for a life style model. Thus we 

292 Diversity 

are beginning to form not only a college student 
ghetto, but even semi-ghettos of pre-teens and teen- 
agers, each with its own peculiar tribal characteris- 
tics, its own fads, fashions, heroes and villains. 

We are simultaneously segmenting the adult pop- 
ulation along age lines, too. There are suburbs oc- 
cupied largely by young married couples with small 
children, or by middle-aged couples with teenagers, 
or by older couples whose children have already left 
home. We have specially-designed “retirement com- 
munities” for retirees. “There may come a day,” 
Professor Lofland warns, “. . . when some cities will 
find that their politics revolve around the voting 
strength of various age category ghettos, in the same 
way that Chicago politics has long revolved around 
ethnic and racial enclaves.” 

This emergence of age-based subcultures can now 
be seen as part of a stunning historical shift in the 
basis of social differentiation. Time is becoming more 
important as a source of differences among men; 
space is becoming less so. 

Thus communications theorist James W. Carey of 
the University of Illinois, points out that “among 
primitive societies and in the earlier stages of west- 
ern history, relatively small discontinuities in space 
led to vast differences in culture . . . Tribal societies 
separated by a hundred miles could have . . . grossly 
dissimilar systems of expressive symbolism, myth and 
ritual.” Within these same societies, however, there 
was “great continuity . . . over generations . . . vast 
differences between societies but relatively little var- 
iation between generations within a given society.” 

Today, he continues, space “progressively disap- 
pears as a differentiating factor.” But if there has 
been some reduction in regional variation, Carey 
takes pains to point out, “one must not assume that 
differences between groups are being obliterated . . . 
as some mass society theorists [suggest].” Rather, 
Carey points out, “the axis of diversity shifts from a 
spatial ... to a temporal or generational dimension.” 

A Surfeit of Subcults 293 

Thus we get jagged breaks between the generations 
and Mario Savio summed it up with the revolution- 
ary slogan, Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” In no 
previous society could such a slogan have caught on 
so quickly. 

Carey explains this shift from spatial to temporal 
differentiation by calling attention to the advance 
of communications and transportation technology 
which spans great distances, and, in effect, conquers 
space. Yet there is another, easily overlooked factor 
at work: the acceleration of change. For as the pace 
of change in the external environment steps up, the 
inner differences between young and old become 
necessarily more marked. In fact, the pace of change 
is already so blinding that even a few years can make 
a great difference in the life experience of the in- 
dividual. This is why some brothers and sisters, 
separated in age by a mere three or four years, sub- 
jectively feel themselves to be members of quite dif- 
ferent ‘generations.” It is why among those radicals 
who participated in the strike at Columbia University, 
seniors spoke of the “generation gap” that separated 
them from sophomores. 


Splintering along occupational, recreational and age 
lines, the society is also fragmenting along sexual- 
familial lines. Even now, however, we are already 
creating distinctive new subcults based on marital 
status. Once people might be loosely classified as 
either single, married or widowed. Today this three- 
way categorization is no longer adequate. Divorce 
rates are so high in most of the techno-societies today 
that a distinct new social grouping has emerged— 
those who are no longer married or who are between 
marriages. Thus Morton Hunt, an authority on the 
subject, describes what he terms “the world of the 
formerly married.” 

294 Diversity 

This group, says Hunt, is a “subculture . . . with 
its own mechanisms for bringing people together, its 
own patterns of adjustment to the separated or di- 
vorced life, its own opportunities for friendship, social 
life and love.” As its members break away from their 
married friends, they become progressively isolated 
from those still in “married life” and “ex-marrieds,” 
like “teen-agers” or “surfers,” tend to form social 
enclaves of their own with their own favored meeting 
places, their own attitudes toward time, their own 
distinct sexual codes and conventions. 

Strong trends make it likely that this particular 
social category will swell in the future. And when 
this happens, the world of the formerly married will, 
in turn, split into multiple worlds, more and still more 
sub-cultural groupings. For the bigger a subcult be- 
comes, the more likely it is to fragment and give 
birth to new subcults. 

If the first clue to the future of social organization 
lies, therefore, in the idea of proliferating subcults, 
the second lies in sheer size. This basic principle is 
largely overlooked by those who are most exercised 
over “mass society,” and it helps explain the persist- 
ence of diversity even under extreme standardizing 
pressures. Because of in-built limitations in social 
communication, size itself acts as a force pushing 
toward diversity of organization. The larger the pop- 
ulation of a modern city, for example, the more 
numerous— and diverse— the subcults within it. Simi- 
larly, the larger the subcult, the higher the odds that 
it will fragment and diversify. The hippies provide a 
perfect example. 



In the mid-fifties, a small group of writers, artists and 
assorted hangers-on coalesced in San Francisco and 
around Carmel and Big Sur on the California coast. 

A Surfeit of Subcults 295 

Quickly dubbed “beats” or “beatniks,” they pieced 
together a distinctive way of life. 

Its most conspicuous elements were the glorifica- 
tion of poverty— jeans, sandals, pads and hovels; a 
predilection for Negro jazz and jargon; an interest in 
Eastern mysticism and French existentialism; and a 
general antagonism to technologically based society. 

Despite extensive press coverage, the beats re- 
mained a tiny sect until a technological innovation— 
lysergic acid, better known as LSD— appeared on the 
scene. Pushed by the messianic advertising of Timo- 
thy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey, distributed 
free to thousands of young people by irresponsible 
enthusiasts, LSD soon began to claim a following on 
the American campus, and almost as quickly spread 
to Europe as well. The infatuation with LSD was ac- 
companied by a new interest in marijuana, a drug 
with which the beats had long experimented. Out of 
these two sources, the beat subcult of the mid-fifties 
and the “acid” subcult of the early sixties, sprang a 
larger group— a new subcult that might be described 
as a corporate merger of the two: the hippie move- 
ment. Blending the blue jeans of the beats with the 
beads and bangles of the acid crowd, the hippies 
became the newest and most hotly publicized subcult 
on the American scene. 

Soon, however, the pressures of growth proved too 
much for it. Thousands of teen-agers joined the ranks; 
millions of pre-teens watched their television sets, 
read magazine articles about the movement, and un- 
dulated in sympathy; some suburban adults even be- 
came “plastic” or weekend hippies. The result was 
predictable. The hippie subcult— exactly like General 
Motors or General Electric— was forced to division- 
alize, to break down into subsidiaries. Thus out of the 
hippie subcult came a shower of progeny. 

To the eye of the uninitiated, all young people with 
long hair seemed alike. Yet important sub-units 
emerged within the movement. According to David 
Andrew Seeley, an acute young observer, there were 

296 Diversity 

at its height “perhaps a score of recognizable and 
distinct groups.” These varied not only by certain 
subtleties of dress but by interest. Thus, Seeley re- 
ported, their activities ranged “from beer parties to 
poetry readings, from pot-smoking to modem dance 
and often those who indulge in one wouldnt touch 
the other.” Seeley then proceeded to explain the de- 
ferences that set apart such groups as the teeny-bop- 
pers (now largely vanished from the scene), the 
political activist beatniks, the folk beatniks, and then, 
and only then, the original hippies per se. 

Members of these subcultural subsidiaries wore 
identifying badges that held meaning for insiders. 
Teeny-boppers, for example, were beardless, many, in 
fact, being too young to shave Sandals wm*e m wi 
the folk set, but not some of the others. The tightness 
of one’s trousers varied according to subcult. 

At the level of ideas, there were many common 
complaints about the dominant culture. But sharp 
differences emerged with respect to political and 
social action. Attitudes ranged from the conscious 
withdrawal of the acid hippie, through the ignorant 
unconcern of the teeny-bopper, to the intense invoke- 
ment of the New Left activist and die politics -of -the- 
absurd activities of groupings like the Dutch provos, 
the Crazies, and the guerrilla theater crowd. 

The hippie corporation, so to speak, ^ew too large 
to handle all its business in a standardized way. It 
had to diversify and it did. It spawned a flock ot 
fledgling subcultural enterprises. 

tribal turnover 

Even as this happened, however, the movement be- 
gan to die. The most passionate LSD ad ™ aat ^ °! 
yesterday began to admit that acid was a bad scene 
£d various underground newspapers beganwiurnmg 
followers against getting too involved with tnpsters. 
A mock funeral was held in San Francisco to loury 

A Surfeit of Subcults 297 

the hippie subcult, and its favored locations, Haight- 
Ashbury and the East Village turned into tourist 
meccas as the original movement writhed and disin- 
tegrated, forming new and odder, but smaller and 
weaker subcults and mini-tribes. Then, as though to 
start the process all over again, yet another subcult, 
the “skinheads,” surfaced, Skinheads had their own 
characteristic outfits— suspenders, boots, short hair- 
cuts— and an unsettling predilection for violence. 

The death of the hippie movement and the rise of 
the skinheads provide a crucial new insight into the 
subcultural structure of tomorrow’s society. For we 
are not merely multiplying subcults. We are turning 
them over more rapidly. The principle of transience 
is at work here, too. As the rate of change accelerates 
in all other aspects of the society, subcults, too, grow 
more ephemeral. 

Evidence pointing toward a decrease in the life 
span of subcults also lies in the disappearance of that 
violent subcult of the fifties, the fighting street gang. 
Throughout that decade certain streets in New York 
were regularly devastated by a peculiar form of urban 
warfare called the “rumble.” During a rumble, scores, 
if not hundreds, of youths would attack one another 
with flailing chains, switchblade knives, broken 
bottles and zip-guns. Rumbles occurred in Chicago, 
Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and even as far away as 
London and Tokyo. 

While there was no direct connection between 
these far-flung outbreaks, rumbles were by no means 
chance events. They were planned and carried out 
with military precision by highly organized “bopping 
gangs.” In New York these gangs affected colorful 
names— Cobras, Corsair Lords, Apaches, Egyptian 
Kings and the like. They fought one another for dom- 
inance in their “turf’— the specific geographic area 
they staked out for themselves. 

At their peak there were some 200 such gangs in 
New York alone, and in a single year, 1958, they ac- 
counted for no fewer than eleven homicides. Yet by 

298 Diversity 

1966, according to police officials, the bopping gangs 
had virtually vanished. Only one gang was left in 
New York, and The New York Times reported: “No 
one knows on what garbage strewn street . . . the last 
rumble took place. But it happened four or five years 
ago [which would date the death of the rumble a 
mere two or three years after the 1958 peak]. Then, 
suddenly, after a decade of mounting violence the era 
of the fighting gangs of New York came to an end.” 
The same appeared to be true in Washington, New- 
ark, Philadelphia and elsewhere as well. 

The disappearance of the violent street gangs has 
not, of course, led to an era of urban tranquility. The 
aggressive passions that led poor Puerto Rican and 
Negro youths in New York to wage war on rival 
gangs is now directed at the social system itself, and 
totally new kinds of social organizations, subcults 
and life style groupings are emerging in the ghetto. 

What we sense, therefore, is a process by which 
subcults multiply at an ever accelerating rate, and 
in turn die off to make room for still more and newer 
subcults. A kind of metabolic process is taking place 
in the bloodstream of the society, and it is speeding 
up exactly as other aspects of social interaction are 

For the individual, this raises the problems of 
choice to a totally new level of intensity. It is not 
simply that the number of tribes is expanding rapid- 
ly. It is not even that these tribes or subcults are 
bouncing off one another, shifting and changing their 
relationships to one another more and more rapidly. It 
is also that many of them will not hold still long 
enough to permit an individual to make a rational in- 
vestigation of the presumed advantages or disad- 
vantages of affiliation. 

The individual searching for some sense of be- 
longing, looking for the kind of social connection 
that confers some sense of identity, moves through a 
blurry environment in which the possible targets of 
affiliation are all in high-speed motion. He must 


A Surfeit of Subcults 

choose from among a growing number of moving tar- 
gets. The problems of choice thus escalate not arith- 
metically, but geometrically. 

At the very instant when his choices among ma- 
terial goods, education, culture consumption, recrea- 
tion and entertainment are all multiplying, he is also 
given a bewildering array of social choices. And just 
as there is a limit to how much choice he may wish 
to exercise in buying a car— at a certain point the 
addition of options requires more decision-making 
than they are worth— so, too, we may soon approach 
the moment of social overchoice. 

The level of personality disorder, neurosis, and 
just plain psychological distress in our society sug- 
gests that it is already difficult for many individuals 
to create a sensible, integrated, and reasonably stable 
personal style. Yet there is every evidence that the 
thrust toward social diversity, paralleling that at the 
level of goods and culture, is just beginning. We face 
a tempting and terrifying extension of freedom. 


The more subcultural groupings in a society, the 
greater the potential freedom of the individual. This 
is why pre-industrial man, despite romantic myths to 
the contrary, suffered so bitterly from lack of choice. 

While sentimentalists prattle about the supposedly 
unfettered freedom of the primitive, evidence col- 
lected by anthropologists and historians contradicts 
them. John Gardner puts the matter tersely: “The 
primitive tribe or pre-industrial community has us- 
ually demanded far more profound submission of the 
individual to the group than has any modern society.” 
As an Australian social scientist was told by a Temne 
tribesman in Sierra Leone: “When Temne people 
choose a thing, we must all agree with the decision 
— this is what we call cooperation.” 

This is, of course, what we call conformity. 

300 Diversity 

The reason for the crushing conformity required of 
pre-industrial man, the reason the Temne tribesman 
has to “go along” with his fellows, is precisely that he 
has nowhere else to go. His society is monolithic, not 
yet broken into a liberating multiplicity of compo- 
nents. It is what sociologists call “undifferentiated.” 

Like a bullet smashing into a pane of glass, indus- 
trialism shatters these societies, splitting them up into 
thousands of specialized agencies— schools, corpora- 
tions, government bureaus, churches, armies— each 
subdivided into smaller and still more specialized sub- 
units. The same fragmentation occurs at the informal 
level, and a host of subcults spring up: rodeo riders, 
Black Muslims, motorcyclists, skinheads and all the 

This split-up of the social order is precisely anal- 
ogous to the process of growth in biology. Embryos 
differentiate as they develop, forming more and more 
specialized organs. The entire march of evolution, 
from the virus to man, displays a relentless advance 
toward higher and higher degrees of differentiation. 
There appears to be a seemingly irresistible move- 
ment of living beings and social groups from less to 
more differentiated forms. 

Thus it is not accidental that we witness parallel 
trends toward diversity’— in the economy, in art, in ed- 
ucation and mass culture, in the social order itself. 
These trends all fit together forming part of an im- 
mensely larger historic process. The Super-industrial 
Revolution can now be seen for what, in large mea- 
sure, it is— the advance of human society to its next 
higher stage of differentiation. 

This is why it often seems to us that our society is 
cracking at the seams. It is. This is why everything 
grows increasingly complex. Where once there stood 
1000 organizational entities, there now stand 10,000 
—interconnected by increasingly transient links. 
Where once there were a few relatively permanent 
subcults with which a person might identify, there 
now are thousands of temporary subcults milling 


A Surfeit of Subcults 

about, colliding and multiplying. The powerful bonds 
that integrated industrial society— bonds of law, com- 
mon values, centralized and standardized education 
and cultural production— are breaking down. 

All this explains why cities suddenly seem to be 
“unmanageable” and universities “ungovernable.” For 
the old ways of integrating a society, methods based 
on uniformity, simplicity, and permanence, are no 
longer effective. A new, more finely fragmented social 
order— a super-industrial order— is emerging. It is 
based on many more diverse and short-lived com- 
ponents than any previous social system— and we 
have not yet learned how to link them together, how 
to integrate the whole. 

For the individual, this leap to a new level of dif- 
ferentiation holds awesome implications. But not 
the ones most people fear. We have been told so often 
that we are heading for faceless uniformity that we 
fail to appreciate the fantastic opportunities for in- 
dividuality that the Super-industrial Revolution brings 
with it. And we have hardly begun to think about the 
dangers of over-individualization that are also implic- 
it in it. 

The “mass society” theorists are obsessed by a real- 
ity that has already begun to pass us by. The Cassan- 
dras who blindly hate technology and predict an 
ant-heap future are still responding in knee-jerk 
fashion to the conditions of industrialism. Yet this 
system is already being superseded. 

To denounce the conditions that imprison the in- 
dustrial worker today is admirable. To project these 
conditions into the future, and predict the death of 
individualism, diversity and choice, is to utter dan- 
gerous cliches. 

The people of both past and present are still locked 
into relatively choiceless life ways. The people of the 
future, whose number increases daily, face not choice 
but overchoice. For them there comes an explosive 
extension of freedom. 

And this freedom comes not in spite of the new 

302 Diversity 

technology but very largely because of it. For if the 
early technology of industrialism required mindless, 
robot-like men to perform endlessly repetitive tasks, 
the technology of tomorrow takes over precisely these 
tasks, leaving for men only those functions that re- 
quire judgment, interpersonal skills and imagination. 
Super-industrialism requires, and will create, not 
identical “mass men,” but people richly different 
from one another, individuals, not robots. 

The human race, far from being flattened into 
monotonous conformity, will become far more di- 
verse socially than it ever was before. The new so- 
ciety, the super-industrial society now beginning to 
take form, will encourage a crazy-quilt pattern of 
evanescent life styles. 

Chapter 14 


In San Francisco, executives lunch at restaurants 
where they are served by bare-breasted waitresses. 
In New York, however, a kooky girl cellist is ar- 
rested for performing avant garde music in a topless 
costume. In St. Louis, scientists hire prostitutes and 
others to copulate under a camera as part of a study 
of the physiology of the orgasm. But in Columbus, 
Ohio, civic controversy erupts over the sale of so- 
called “Little Brother” dolls that come from the fac- 
tory equipped with male genitalia. In Kansas City, a 
conference of homosexual organizations announces a 
campaign to lift a Pentagon ban on homosexuals in 
the armed forces and, in fact, the Pentagon discreetly 
does so. Yet American jails are well populated with 
men arrested for the crime of homosexuality. 

Seldom has a single nation evinced greater con- 
fusion over its sexual values. Yet the same might be 
said for other kinds of values as well. America is 
tortured by uncertainty with respect to money, prop- 
erty, law and order, race, religion, God, family and 
self. Nor is the United States alone in suffering from a 
kind of value vertigo. All the techno-societies are 
caught up in the same massive upheaval. This col- 
lapse of the values of the past has hardly gone un- 
noticed. Every priest, politician and parent is reduced 

304 Diversity 

to head-shaking anxiety by it. Yet most discussions of 
value change are barren for they miss two essential 
points. The first of these is acceleration. 

Value turnover is now faster than ever before in 
history. While in the past a man growing up in a 
society could expect that its public value system 
would remain largely unchanged in his lifetime, no 
such assumption is warranted today, except perhaps 
in the most isolated of pre-technological communi- 

This implies temporariness in the structure of both 
public and personal value systems, and it suggests 
that whatever the content of values that arise to re- 
place those of the industrial age, they will be short- 
er-lived, more ephemeral than the values of the past. 
There is no evidence whatsoever that the value sys- 
tems of the techno-societies are likely to return to a 
“steady state” condition. For the foreseeable future, 
we must anticipate still more rapid value change. 

Within this context, however, a second powerful 
trend is unfolding. For the fragmentation of societies 
brings with it a diversification of values. We are wit- 
nessing the crack-jup of consensus. 

Most previous societies have operated with a broad 
central core of commonly shared values. This core 
is now contracting, and there is little reason to an- 
ticipate the formation of a new broad consensus 
within the decades ahead. The pressures are outward 
toward diversity, not inward toward unity. 

This accounts for the fantastically discordant prop- 
aganda that assails the mind in the techno-societies. 
Home, school, corporation, church, peer group, mass 
media— and myriad subcults— all advertise varying 
sets of values. The result for many is an “anything 
goes” attitude— which is, itself, still another value 
position. We are, declares Newsweek magazine, “a 
society that has lost its consensus ... a society that 
cannot agree on standards of conduct, language and 
manners, on what can be seen and heard.” 

This picture of a cracked consensus is confirmed by 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

the findings of Walter Gruen, social science research 
coordinator at Rhode Island Hospital, who has con- 
ducted a series of statistical studies of what he terms 
“the American core culture.” Rather than the mono- 
lithic system of beliefs attributed to the middle class 
by earlier investigators, Gruen found— to his own sur- 
prise— that “diversity in beliefs was more striking than 
the statistically supported uniformities. It is,” he con- 
cluded, “perhaps already misleading to talk of an 
‘American culture complex.” 

Gruen suggests that particularly among the afflu- 
ent, educated group, consensus is giving way to what 
he calls “pockets” of values. We can expect that, as 
the number and variety of subcults continues to ex- 
pand, these pockets will proliferate, too. 

Faced with colliding value systems, confronted 
with a blinding array of new consumer goods, serv- 
ices, educational, occupational and /recreational op- 
tions, the people of the future are driven to make 
choices in a new way. They begin to “consume” life 
styles the way people of an earlier, less choice-choked 
time consumed ordinary products. 


During Elizabethan times, the term “gentleman” re- 
ferred to a whole way of life, not simply an accident 
of birth. Appropriate lineage may have been a pre- 
requisite, but to be a gentleman one had also to live 
in a certain style: to be better educated, have better 
manners, wear better clothes than the masses; to 
engage in certain recreations ( and not others ) ; to live 
in a large, well-furnished house; to maintain a certain 
aloofness with subordinates; in short, never to lose 
sight of his class “superiority.” 

The merchant class had its own preferred life style 
and the peasantry still another. These life styles, like 
that of the gentleman, were pieced together out of 
many different components, ranging from residence, 

306 Diversity 

occupation and dress to jargon, gesture and religion. 

Today we still create our life styles by forming a 
mosaic of components. But much has changed. Life 
style is no longer simply a manifestation of class po- 
sition. Classes themselves are breaking up into small- 
er units. Economic factors are declining in impor- 
tance. Thus today it is not so much one’s class base as 
one’s ties with a subcult that determine the individ- 
ual’s style of life. The working-class hippie and the 
hippie who dropped out of Exeter or Eton share a 
common style of life but no common class. 

Since life style has become the way in which the 
individual expresses his identification with this or 
that subcult, the explosive multiplication of subcults 
in society has brought with it an equally explosive 
multiplication of life styles. Thus the stranger 
launched into American or English or Japanese or 
Swedish society' today must choose not among four 
or five class-based styles of life, but among literally 
hundreds of diverse possibilities. Tomorrow, as sub- 
cults proliferate, this number will be even larger. 

How we choose a life style, and what it means to 
us, therefore, looms as one of the central issues of 
the psychology of tomorrow. For the selection of a life 
style, whether consciously done or not, powerfully 
shapes the individual’s future. It does this by impos- 
ing order, a set of principles or criteria on the choices 
he makes in his daily life. 

This becomes clear if we examine how such choices 
are actually made. The young couple setting out to 
furnish their apartment may look at literally hundreds 
of different lamps— Scandinavian, Japanese, French 
Provincial, Tiffany lamps, hurricane lamps, American 
colonial lamps— dozens, scores of different sizes, 
models and styles before selecting, say, the Tiffany 
lamp. Having "surveyed a “universe” of possibilities, 
they zero in on one. In the furniture department, 
they again scan an array of alternatives, then settle 
on a Victorian end table. This scan-and-select pro- 
cedure is repeated with respect to rugs, sofa, drapes, 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

dining room chairs, etc. In fact, something like this 
same procedure is followed not merely in furnishing 
their home, but also in their adoption of ideas, friends, 
even the vocabulary they use and the values they 

While the society bombards the individual with 
a swirling, seemingly patternless set of alternatives, 
the selections made are anything but random. The 
consumer (whether of end tables or ideas) comes 
armed with a pre-established set of tastes and prefer- 
ences. Moreover, no choice is wholly independent. 
Each is conditioned by those made earlier. The 
couple's selection of an end table has been condi- 
tioned by their previous choice of a lamp. In short, 
there is a certain consistency, an attempt at personal 
style, in all our actions— whether consciously recog- 
nized or not. 

The American male who wears a button-down col- 
lar and garter-length socks probably also wears 
wing-tip shoes and carries an attache case. If we 
look closely, chances are we shall find a facial ex- 
pression and brisk manner intended to approximate 
those of the stereotypical executive. The odds are 
astronomical that he will not let his hair grow wild in 
the manner of rock musician Jimi Hendrix. He knows, 
as we do, that certain clothes, manners, forms of 
speech, opinions and gestures hang together, while 
others do not. He may know this only by “feel,” or 
“intuition,” having picked it up by observing others 
in the society, but the knowledge shapes his actions. 

The black-jacketed motorcyclist who wears steel- 
studded gauntlets and an obscene swastika dangling 
from his throat completes his costume with rugged 
boots, not loafers or wing- tips. He is likely to swagger 
as he walks and to grunt as he mouths his anti-au- 
thoritarian platitudes. For he, too, values consistency. 
He knows that any trace of gentility or articulateness 
would destroy the integrity of his style. 




Why do the motorcyclists wear black jackets? Why 
not brown or blue? Why do executives in America 
prefer attach^ cases, rather than the traditional brief- 
case? It is as though they were following some model, 
trying to attain some ideal laid down from above. 

We know little about the origin of life style models. 
We do know, however, that popular heroes and celeb- 
rities, including fictional characters (James Bond, for 
example), have something to do with it. 

Marlon Brando, swaggering in a black jacket as a 
motorcyclist, perhaps originated, and certainly publi- 
cized a life style model. Timothy Leary, robed, bead- 
ed, and muttering mystic pseudo profundities about 
love and LSD, provided a model for thousands of 
youths. Such heroes, as the sociologist Orrin Klapp 
puts it, help to “crystallize a social type.” He cites the 
late James Dean who depicted the alienated adoles- 
cent in the movie Rebel Without a Cause or Elvis 
Presley who initially fixed the image of the guitar- 
twanging rock-’n’-roller. Later came the Beatles with 
their (at that time) outrageous hair and exotic cos- 
tumes. “One of the prime functions of popular favor- 
ites,” says Klapp, “is to make types visible, which 
in turn make new life styles and new tastes visible.” 

Yet the style-setter need not be a mass media 
idol. He may be almost unknown outside a particular 
subcult. Thus for years Lionel Trilling, an English 
professor at Columbia, was the father figure for the 
West Side Intellectuals, a New York subcult well 
known in literary and academic circles in the United 
States. The mother figure was Mary McCarthy, long 
before she achieved popular fame. 

An acute article by John Speicher in a youth maga- 
zine called Cheetah listed some of the better-known 
life style models to which young people were re- 
sponding in the late sixties. They ranged from Che 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

Guevara to William Buckley, from Bob Dylan and 
Joan Baez to Robert Kennedy. “The American youth 
bag,” wrote Speicher, lapsing into hippie jargon, “is 
overcrowded with heroes.” And, he adds, “where 
heroes are, there are followers, cultists.” 

To the subcult member, its heroes provide what 
Speicher calls the “crucial existential necessity of 
psychological identity.” This is, of course, hardly new. 
Earlier generations identified with Charles Lindbergh 
or Theda Bara. What is new and highly significant, 
however, is the fabulous proliferation of such heroes 
and mini-heroes. As subcults multiply and values di- 
versify, we find, in Speicher’s words, “a national 
sense of identity hopelessly fragmented.” For the in- 
dividual, he says, this means greater choice: “There is 
a wide range of cults available, a wide range of he- 
roes. You can do comparison shopping.” 


While charismatic figures may become style-setters, 
styles are fleshed out and marketed to the public by 
the sub-societies or tribe-lets we have termed sub- 
cults. Taking in raw symbolic matter from the mass 
media, they somehow piece together odd bits of dress, 
opinion, and expression and form them into a co- 
herent package: a life style model. Once they have 
assembled a particular model, they proceed, like 
any good corporation, to merchandise it. They find 
customers for it. 

Anyone doubting this is advised to read the letters 
of Allen Ginsberg to Timothy Leary, the two men 
most responsible for creating the hippie life style, 
with its heavy accent on drug use. 

Says poet Ginsberg: “Yesterday got on TV with 
N. Mailer and Ashley Montagu and gave big speech 
. . . recommending everybody get high . . . Got in 
touch with all the liberal pro-dope people I know to 
have [a certain pro-drug report] publicized and cir- 

310 Diversity 

culated ... I wrote a five-page summary of the situa- 
tion to this friend Kenny Love on The New York 
Times and he said he’d perhaps do a story (news- 
wise) . . . which could then be picked up by U.P. 
friend on national wire. Also gave copy to A1 Arono- 
witz on New York Post and Rosalind Constable at 
Time and Bob Silvers on Harpers . . .” 

No wonder LSD and the whole hippie phenomenon 
received the immense mass media publicity it did. 
This partial account of Ginsberg’s energetic press 
agentry, complete with the Madison Avenue suffix 
“-wise” (as in newswise), reads precisely like an in- 
ternal memo from Hill and Knowlton or any of the 
other giant public relations corporations whom hip- 
pies love to flagellate for manipulating public opinion. 
The successful “sale” of the hippie life style model to 
young people all over the techno-societies, is one of 
the classic merchandising stories of our time. 

Not all subcults are so aggressive and talented at 
flackery, yet their cumulative power in the society is 
enormous. This power stems from our almost universal 
desperation to “belong.” The primitive tribesman feels 
a strong attachment to his tribe. He knows that he 
“belongs” to it, and may even have difficulty imagining 
himself apart from it. The techno-societies are so large, 
however, and their complexities so far beyond the com- 
prehension of any individual, that it is only by plug- 
ging in to one or more of their subcults, that we main- 
tain some sense of identity and contact with the whole. 
Failure to identify with some such group or groups 
condemns us to feelings of loneliness, alienation and 
ineffectuality. We begin to wonder “who we are.” 

In contrast, the sense of belonging, of being part of 
a social cell larger than ourselves (yet small enough 
to be comprehensible) is often so rewarding that we 
feel deeply drawn, sometimes even against our own 
better judgment, to the values, attitudes and most- 
favored life style of the group. 

However, we pay for the benefits we receive. For 
once we psychologically affiliate with a subcult, it 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

begins to exert pressures on us. We find that it pays 
to “go along” with the group. It rewards us with 
warmth, friendship and approval when we conform to 
its life style model. But it punishes us ruthlessly with 
ridicule, ostracism or other tactics when we deviate 
from it. 

Hawking their preferred life style models, subcults 
clamor for our attention. In so doing, they act directly 
on our most vulnerable psychological property, our 
self-image. “Join us,” they whisper, “and you become 
a bigger, better, more effective, more respected and 
less lonely person.” In choosing among the fast-pro- 
liferating subcults we may only vaguely sense that our 
identity will be shaped by our decision, but we feel 
the hot urgency of their appeals and counter- appeals. 
We are buffeted back and forth by their psychological 

At the moment of choice among them, we resemble 
the tourist walking down Bourbon Street in New Or- 
leans. As he strolls past the honky-tonks and clip joints, 
doormen grab him by the arm, spin him around, and 
open a door so he can catch a titillating glimpse of the 
naked flesh of the strippers on the platform behind 
the bar. Subcults reach out to capture us and appeal 
to our most private fantasies in ways far more power- 
ful and subtle than any yet devised by Madison 

What they offer is not simply a skin show or a new 
soap or detergent. They offer not a product, but a 
super-product. It is true they hold out the promise of 
human warmth, companionship, respect, a sense of 
community. But so do the advertisers of deodorants 
and beer. The “miracle ingredient,” the exclusive com- 
ponent, the one thing that subcults offer that other 
hawkers cannot, is a respite from the strain of over- 
choice. For they offer not a single product or idea, 
but a way of organizing all products and ideas, not a 
single commodity but a whole style, a set of guidelines 
that help the individual reduce the increasing com- 
plexity of choice to manageable proportions. 

312 Diversity 

Most of us are desperately eager to find precisely 
such guidelines. In the welter of conflicting moralities, 
in the confusion occasioned by overchoice, the most 
powerful, most useful “super-product” of all is an 
organizing principle for one’s life. This is what a life 
style offers. 


Of course, not just any life style will do. We live in a 
Cairo bazaar of competing models. In this psychologi- 
cal phantasmagoria we search for a style, a way of 
ordering our existence, that will fit our particular 
temperament and circumstances. We look for heroes 
or mini-heroes to emulate. The style-seeker is like the 
lady who flips through the pages of a fashion maga- 
zine to find a suitable dress pattern. She studies one 
after another, settles on one that appeals to her, and 
decides to create a dress based on it. Next she begins 
to collect the necessary materials— cloth, thread, pip- 
ing, buttons, etc. In precisely the same way, the life 
style creator acquires the necessary props. He lets his 
hair grow. He buys art nouveau posters and a paper- 
back of Guevara’s writings. He learns to discuss 
Marcuse and Frantz Fanon. He picks up a particular 
jargon, using words like “relevance” and “establish- 

None of this means that his political actions are 
insignificant, or that his opinions are unjust or foolish. 
He may (or may not) be accurate in his views of 
society. Yet the particular way in which he chooses 
to express them is inescapably part of his search for 
personal style. 

The lady, in constructing her dress, alters it here 
and there, deviating from the pattern in minor ways 
to make it fit her more perfectly. The end product is 
truly custom-made; yet it bears a striking resemblance 
to others sewn from the same design. In quite the 
same way we individualize our style of living, yet it 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

usually winds up bearing a distinct resemblance to 
some life style model previously packaged and mar- 
keted by a subcult. 

Often we are unaware of the moment when we 
commit ourselves to one life style model over all 
others. The decision to “be” an Executive or a Black 
Militant or a West Side Intellectual is seldom the 
result of purely logical analysis. Nor is the decision 
always made cleanly, all at once. The research scien- 
tist who switches from cigarettes to a pipe may do so 
for health reasons without recognizing that the pipe 
is part of a whole life style toward which he finds 
himself drawn. The couple who choose the Tiff an y 
lamp think they are furnishing an apartment; they do 
not necessarily see their actions as an attempt to flesh 
out an overall style of life. 

Most of us, in fact, do not think of our own lives in 
terms of life style, and we often have difficulty in 
talking about it objectively. We have even more trou- 
ble when we try to articulate the structure of values 
implicit in our style. The task is doubly hard because 
many of us do not adopt a single integrated style, but 
a composite of elements drawn from several different 
models. We may emulate both Hippie and Surfer. We 
may choose a cross between West Side Intellectual 
and Executive-a fusion that is, in fact, chosen by 
many publishing officials in New York. When one’s 
personal style is a hybrid, it is frequently difficult to 
disentangle the multiple models on which it is based. 

Once we commit ourselves to a particular model, 
however, we fight energetically to build it, and per- 
haps even more so to preserve it against challenge. 
For the style becomes extremely important to us. This 
is doubly true of the people of the future, among 
whom concern for style is downright passionate. This 
intense concern for style is not, however, what literary 
critics mean by formalism. It is not simply an interest 
in outward appearances. For style of life involves not 
merely the external forms of behavior, but the values 
implicit in that behavior, and one cannot change one’s 

314 Diversity 

life style without working some change in one’s self- 
image. The people of the future are not “style con- 
scious” but “life style conscious.” 

This is why little things often assume great signifi- 
cance for them. A single small detail of one’s life may 
be charged with emotional power if it challenges a 
hard-won life style, if it threatens to break up the 
integrity of the style. Aunt Ethel gives us a wedding 
present. We are embarrassed by it, for it is in a style 
alien to our own. It irritates and upsets us, even 
though we know that “Aunt Ethel doesn’t know any 
better.” We banish it hastily to the top shelf of the 

Aunt Ethel’s toaster or tablewear is not important, 
in and of itself. But it is a message from a different 
subcultural world, and unless we are weak in commit- 
ment to our own style, unless we happen to be in 
transition between styles, it represents a potent threat. 
The psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term 
“cognitive dissonance” to mean the tendency of a 
person to reject or deny information that challenges 
his preconceptions. We don’t want to hear things that 
may upset our carefully worked out structure of 
beliefs. Similarly, Aunt Ethel’s gift represents an ele- 
ment of “stylistic dissonance.” It threatens to under- 
mine our carefully worked out style of life. 

Why does the life style have this power to preserve 
itself? What is the source of our commitment to it? A 
life style is a vehicle through which we express our- 
selves. It is a way of telling the world which particu- 
lar subcult or subcults we belong to. Yet this hardly 
accounts for its enormous importance to us. The real 
reason why life styles are so significant— and increas- 
ingly so as the society diversifies— is that, above all 
else, the choice of a life style model to emulate is a 
crucial strategy in our private war against the crowd- 
ing pressures of overchoice. 

Deciding, whether consciously or not, to be “like” 
William Buckley or Joan Baez, Lionel Trilling or his 
surfer equivalent, J. J. Moon, rescues us from the 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

need to make millions of minute life-decisions. Once a 
commitment to a style is made, we are able to rule 
out many forms of dress and behavior, many ideas 
and attitudes, as inappropriate to our adopted style. 
The college boy who chooses the Student Protester 
Model wastes little energy agonizing over whether to 
vote for Wallace, carry an attache case, or invest in 
mutual funds. 

By zeroing in on a particular life style we exclude 
a vast number of alternatives from further considera- 
tion. The fellow who opts for the Motorcyclist Model 
need no longer concern himself with the hundreds of 
types of gloves available to him on the open market, 
but which violate the spirit of his style. He need only 
choose among the far smaller repertoire of glove types 
that fit within the limits set by his model. And what 
is said of gloves is equally applicable to his ideas and 
social relationships as well. 

The commitment to one style of life over another is 
thus a super-decision. It is a decision of a higher order 
than the general run of everyday life-decisions. It is 
a decision to narrow the range of alternatives that 
will concern us in the future. So long as we operate 
within the confines of the style we have chosen, our 
choices are relatively simple. The guidelines are clear. 
The subcult to which we belong helps us answer any 
questions; it keeps the guidelines in place. 

But when our style is suddenly challenged, when 
something forces us to reconsider it, we are driven to 
make another super-decision. We face the painful need 
to transform not only ourselves, but our self-image 
as well. 

It is painful because, freed of our commitment to 
any given style, cut adrift from the subcult that gave 
rise to it, we no longer “belong.” Worse yet, our basic 
principles are called into question and we must face 
each new life-decision afresh, alone, without the se- 
curity of a definite, fixed policy. We are, in short, con- 
fronted with the full, crushing burden of overchoice 




To be “between styles” or “between subcults” is a life- 
crisis, and the people of the future spend more time 
in this condition, searching for styles, than do the 
people of the past or present. Altering his identity as 
he goes, super-industrial man traces a private trajec- 
tory through a world of colliding subcults. This is the 
social mobility of the future: not simply movement 
from one economic class to another, but from one 
tribal grouping to another. Restless movement from 
subcult to ephemeral subcult describes the arc of his 

There are plenty of reasons for this restlessness. It 
is not merely that the individual’s psychological needs 
change more often than in the past; the subcults also 
change. For these and other reasons, as subcult mem- 
bership becomes ever more unstable, the search for 
a personal style will become increasingly intense, even 
frenetic in the decades to come. Again and again, we 
shall find ourselves bitter or bored, vaguely dissatis- 
fied with “the way things are”— upset, in other words, 
with our present style. At that moment, we begin once 
more to search for a new principle around which to 
organize our choices. We arrive again at the moment 
of super-decision. 

At this moment, if anyone studied our behavior 
closely, he would find a sharp increase in what might 
be called the Transience Index. The rate of turnover 
of things, places, people, organizational and informa- 
tional relationships spurts upward. We get rid of that 
silk dress or tie, the old Tiffany lamp, that horror of a 
claw-footed Victorian end table— all those symbols of 
our links with the subcult of the past. We begin, bit 
by bit, to replace them with new items emblematic of 
our new identification. The same process occurs in our 
social lives— the through-put of people speeds up. We 
begin to reject ideas we have held ( or to explain them 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

or rationalize them in new ways). We are suddenly 
free of all the constraints that our subcult or style 
imposed on us. A Transience Index would prove a 
sensitive indicator of those moments in our lives when 
we are most free— but, at the same time, most lost. 

It is in this interval that we exhibit the wild oscilla- 
tion engineers call “searching behavior.” We are most 
vulnerable now to the messages of new subcults, to 
the claims and counterclaims that rend the air. We 
lean this way and that. A powerful new friend, a new 
fad or idea, a new political movement, some new hero 
rising from the depths of the mass media— all these 
strike us with particular force at such a moment. We 
are more “open,” more uncertain, more ready for 
someone or some group to tell us what to do, how to 

Decisions— even little ones— come harder. This is not 
accidental. To cope with the press of daily life we 
need more information about far more trivial matters 
than when we were locked into a firm life style. And 
so we feel anxious, pressured, alone, and we move 
on. We choose or allow ourselves to be sucked into a 
new subcult. We put on a new style. 

As we rush toward super-industrialism, therefore, 
we find people adopting and discarding life styles at 
a rate that would have staggered the members of any 
previous generation. For the life style itself has be- 
come a throw-away item. 

This is no small or easy matter. It accounts for the 
much lamented “loss of commitment” that is so char- 
acteristic of our time. As people shift from subcult to 
subcult, from style to style, they are conditioned to 
guard themselves against the inevitable pain of dis- 
affiliation. They learn to armor themselves against the 
sweet sorrow of parting. The extremely devout Cath- 
olic who throws over his religion and plunges into the 
life of a New Left activist, then throws himself into 
some other cause or movement or subcult, cannot go 
on doing so forever. He becomes, to adapt Graham 
Greene’s term, a “burnt out case.” He learns from past 

318 Diversity 

disappointment never to lay too much of his old self on 
the line. 

And so, even when he seemingly adopts a subcult or 
style, he withholds some part of himself. He conforms 
to the group’s demands and revels in the belonging- 
ness that it gives him. But this belongingness is never 
the same as it once was, and secretly he remains ready 
to defect at a moment’s notice. What this means is 
that even when he seems most firmly plugged in to his 
group or tribe, he listens, in the dark of night, to the 
short-wave signals of competing tribes. 

In this sense, his membership in the group is shal- 
low. He remains constantly in a posture of non-com- 
mitment, and without strong commitment to the values 
and styles of some group he lacks the explicit set of 
criteria that he needs to pick his way through the 
burgeoning jungle of overchoice. 

The super-industrial revolution, consequently, forces 
the whole problem of overchoice to a qualitatively new 
level. It forces us now to make choices not merely 
among lamps and lampshades, but among lives, not 
among life style components, but among whole life 

This intensification of the problem of overchoice 
presses us toward orgies of self-examination, soul- 
searching and introversion. It confronts us with that 
most popular of contemporary illnesses, the “identity 
crisis.” Never before have masses of men faced a more 
complex set of choices. The hunt for identity arises 
not out of the supposed choicelessness of “mass so- 
ciety,” but precisely from the plenitude and complex- 
ity of our choices. 

Each time we make a style choice, a super-decision, 
each time we link up with some particular subcultural 
group or groups, we make some change in our self- 
image. We become, in some sense, a different person, 
and we perceive ourselves as different. Our old friends, 
those who knew us in some previous incarnation, 
raise their eyebrows. They have a harder and harder 
time recognizing us, and, in fact, we experience in- 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

creasing difficulty in identifying with, or even sympa- 
thizing with, our own past selves. 

The hippie becomes the straight-arrow executive, 
the executive becomes the skydiver without noting the 
exact steps of transition. In the process, he discards 
not only the externals of his style, but many of his 
underlying attitudes as well. And one day the question 
hits him like a splash of cold water in a sleep-sodden 
face: “What remains?” What is there of “self’ or “per- 
sonality” in the sense of a continuous, durable internal 
structure? For some, the answer is very little. For they 
are no longer dealing in “self” but in what might be 
called “serial selves.” 

The Super-industrial Revolution thus requires a ba- 
sic change in man’s conception of himself, a new 
theory of personality that takes into account the dis- 
continuities in men’s lives, as well as the continuities. 

The Super-industrial Revolution also demands a new 
conception of freedom— a recognition that freedom, 
pressed to its ultimate, negates itself. Society’s leap to 
a new level of differentiation necessarily brings with 
it new opportunities for individuation, and the new 
technology, the new temporary organizational forms, 
cry out for a new breed of man. This is why, despite 
“backlash” and temporary reversals, the line of social 
advance carries us toward a wider tolerance, a more 
easy acceptance of more and more diverse human 

The sudden popularity of the slogan “do your thing” 
is a reflection of this historic movement. For the more 
fragmented or differentiated the society, the greater 
the number of varied life styles it promotes. And the 
more socially accepted life style models put forth by 
the society, the closer that society approaches a con- 
dition in which, in fact, each man does his own, 
unique thing. 

Thus, despite all the anti-technological rhetoric of 
the Elluls and Fromms, the Mumfords and Marcuses, 
it is precisely the super-industrial society, the most 
advanced technological society ever, that extends the 

320 Diversity 

range of freedom. The people of the future enjoy 
greater opportunities for self-realization than any 
previous group in history. 

The new society offers few roots in the sense of truly 
enduring relationships. But it does offer more varied 
life niches, more freedom to move in and out of these 
niches, and more opportunity to create one’s own 
niche, than all earlier societies put together. It also 
offers the supreme exhilaration of riding change, crest- 
ing it, changing and growing with it— a process in- 
finitely more exciting than riding the surf, wrestling 
steers, playing “knock hubcaps” on an eight-lane 
speedway, or the pursuit of pharmaceutical kicks. It 
presents the individual with a contest that requires 
self-mastery and high intelligence. For the individual 
who comes armed with these, and who makes the 
necessary effort to understand the fast-emerging super- 
industrial social structure, for the person who finds 
the “right” life pace, the “right” sequence of subcults 
to join and life style models to emulate, the triumph 
is exquisite. 

Undeniably, these grand words do not apply to the 
majority of men. Most people of the past and present 
remain imprisoned in life niches they have neither 
made nor have much hope, under present conditions, 
of ever escaping. For most human beings, the options 
remain excruciatingly few. 

This imprisonment must— and will— be broken. Yet 
it will not be broken by tirades against technology. It 
will not be broken by calls for a return to passivity, 
mysticism and irrationality. It will not be broken by 
“feeling” or “intuiting” our way into the future while 
derogating empirical study, analysis, and rational ef- 
fort. Rather than lashing out, Luddite-fashion, against 
the machine, those who genuinely wash to break the 
prison-hold of the past and present would do well to 
hasten the controlled— selective— arrival of tomorrow’s 
technologies. To accomplish this, however, intuition 
and “mystical insights” are hardly enough. It will take 


A Diversity of Life Styles 

exact scientific knowledge, expertly applied to the 
crucial, most sensitive points of social control. 

Nor does it help to offer the principle of the maximi- 
zation of choice as the key to freedom. We must 
consider the possibility, suggested here, that choice 
may become overchoice, and freedom unfreedom. 


Despite romantic rhetoric, freedom cannot be abso- 
lute. To argue for total choice (a meaningless con- 
cept) or total individuality is to argue against any 
form of community or society altogether. If each 
person, busily doing his thing, were to be wholly 
different from every other, no two humans would have 
any basis for communication. It is ironic that the peo- 
ple who complain most loudly that people cannot 
“relate” to one another, or cannot “communicate” with 
one another, are often the very same people who urge 
greater individuality. The sociologist Karl Mannheim 
recognized this contradiction when he wrote: “The 
more individualized people are, the more difficult it 
is to attain identification.” 

Unless we are literally prepared to plunge backward 
into pre-technological primitivism, and accept all the 
consequences— a shorter, more brutal life, more dis- 
ease, pain, starvation, fear, superstition, xenophobia, 
bigotry and so on— we shall move forward to more and 
more differentiated societies. This raises severe prob- 
lems of social integration. What bonds of education, 
politics, culture must we fashion to tie the super- 
industrial order together into a functioning whole? 
Can this be accomplished? “This integration,” writes 
Bertram M. Gross of Wayne State University, “must 
be based upon certain commonly accepted values or 
some degree of perceived interdependence, if not 
mutually acceptable objectives.” 

A society fast fragmenting at the level of values 
and life styles challenges all the old integrative mech- 

322 Diversity 

anisms and cries out for a totally new basis for recon- 
stitution. We have bv no means yet found this basis. 
Yet if we shall face disturbing problems of social inte- 
gration, we shall confront even more agonizing prob- 
lems of individual integration. For the multiplication 
of life styles challenges our ability to hold the very 
self together. 

Which of many potential selves shall we choose to 
be? What sequence of serial selves will describe us? 
How, in short, must we deal with overchoice at this, 
the most intensely personal and emotion-laden level 
of all? In our headlong rush for variety, choice and 
freedom, we have not yet begun to examine the awe- 
some implications of diversity. 

When diversity, however, converges with transience 
and novelty, we rocket the society toward an historical 
crisis of adaptation. We create an environment so 
ephemeral, unfamiliar and complex as to threaten mil- 
lions with adaptive breakdown. This breakdown is 
future shock. 

Part Five: 


Chapter 15 



Eons ago the shrinking seas cast millions of unwilling 
aquatic creatures onto the newly created beaches. De- 
prived of their familiar environment, they died, gasp- 
ing and clawing for each additional instant of eternity. 
Only a fortunate few, better suited to amphibian 
existence, survived the shock of change. Today, says 
sociologist Lawrence Suhm of the University of Wis- 
consin, “We are going through a period as traumatic 
as the evolution of man’s predecessors from sea crea- 
tures to land creatures . . . Those who can adapt will; 
those who can’t will either go on surviving somehow 
at a lower level of development or will perish— washed 
up on the shores.” 

To assert that man must adapt seems superfluous. 
He has already shown himself to be among the most 
adaptable of life forms. He has survived Equatorial 
summers and Antarctic winters. He has survived 
Dachau and Vorkuta. He has walked the lunar sur- 
face. Such accomplishments give rise to the glib 
notion that his adaptive capabilities are “infinite.” Yet 
nothing could be further from the truth. For despite 
all his heroism and stamina, man remains a biological 
organism, a “biosystem,” and all such systems operate 
within inexorable limits. 

Temperature, pressure, caloric intake, oxygen and 


326 The Limits of Adaptability 

carbon dioxide levels, all set absolute boundaries be- 
yond which man, as presently constituted, cannot ven- 
ture. Thus when we hurl a man into outer space, we 
surround him with an exquisitely designed micro- 
environment that maintains all these factors within 
livable limits. How strange, therefore, that when we 
hurl a man into the future, we take few pains to 
protect him from the shock of change. It is as though 
NASA had shot Armstrong and Aldrin naked into the 

It is the thesis of this book that there are discover- 
able limits to the amount of change that the human 
organism can absorb, and that by endlessly accelerat- 
ing change without first determining these limits, we 
may submit masses of men to demands they simply 
cannot tolerate. We run the high risk of throwing 
them into that peculiar state that I have called future 

We may define future shock as the distress, both 
physical and psychological, that arises from an over- 
load of the human organism’s physical adaptive sys- 
tems and its decision-making processes. Put more 
simply, future shock is the human response to over- 

Different people react to future shock in different 
ways. Its symptoms also vary according to the stage 
and intensity of the disease. These symptoms range all 
the way from anxiety, hostility to helpful authority, 
and seemingly senseless violence, to physical illness, 
depression and apathy. Its victims often manifest 
erratic swings in interest and life style, followed by 
an effort to “crawl into their shells” through social, 
intellectual and emotional withdrawal. They feel con- 
tinually “bugged” or harassed, and want desperately 
to reduce the number of decisions they must make. 

To under c tand this syndrome, we must pull togeth- 
er from such scattered fields as psychology, neurology, 
communications theory and endocrinology, what sci- 
ence can tell us about human adaptation. There is, 

Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 327 

as yet, no science of adaptation per se. Nor is there 
any systematic listing of the diseases of adaptation. 
Yet evidence now sluicing in from a variety of dis- 
ciplines makes it possible to sketch the rough outlines 
of a theory of adaptation. For while researchers in 
these disciplines often work in ignorance of each 
other’s efforts, their work is elegantly compatible. 
Forming a distinct and exciting pattern, it provides 
solid underpinning for the concept of future shock. 


What actually happens to people when they are asked 
to change again and again? To understand the answer, 
we must begin with the body, the physical organism, 
itself. Fortunately, a series of startling, but as yet 
unpublicized, experiments have recently cast revealing 
light on the relationship of change to physical health. 

These experiments grow out of the work of the late 
Dr. Harold G. Wolff at the Cornell Medical Center in 
New York. Wolff repeatedly emphasized that the 
health of the individual is intimately bound up with 
the adaptive demands placed on him by the environ- 
ment. One of Wolff’s followers, Dr. Lawrence E. 
Hinkle, Jr., has termed this the “human ecology” ap- 
proach to medicine, and has argued passionately that 
disease need not be the result of any single, specific 
agent, such as a germ or virus, but a consequence of 
many factors, including the general nature of the 
environment surrounding the body. Hinkle has worked 
for years to sensitize the medical profession to the 
importance of environmental factors in medicine. 

Today, with spreading alarm over air pollution, 
water pollution, urban crowding and other such fac- 
tors, more and more health authorities are coming 
around to the ecological notion that the individual 
needs to be seen as part of a total system, and that 

328 The Limits of Adaptability 

his health is dependent upon many subtle external 

It was another of Wolff s colleagues, however, Dr. 
Thomas H. Holmes, who came up with the idea that 
change, itself— not this or that specific change but the 
general rate of change in a person s life— could be one 
of the most important environmental factors of all. 
Originally from Cornell, Holmes is now at the Univer- 
sity of Washington School of Medicine, and it was 
there, with the help of a young psychiatrist named 
Richard Rahe, that he created an ingenious research 
tool named the Life-Change Units Scale. This was a 
device for measuring how much change an individual 
has experienced in a given span of time. Its develop- 
ment was an important methodological breakthrough, 
making it possible, for the first time, to qualify, at 
least crudely, the rate of change in individual life. 

Reasoning that different kinds of life-changes strike 
us with different force, Holmes and Rahe began by 
listing as many such changes as they could. A divorce, 
a marriage, a move to a new home— such events affect 
each of us differently. Moreover, some carry greater 
impact than others. A vacation trip, for example, may 
represent a pleasant break in the routine. Yet it can 
hardly compare in impact with, say, the death of a 

Holmes and Rahe next took their list of life-changes 
to thousands of men and women in many walks of 
life in the United States and Japan. Each person was 
asked to rank order the specific items on the list ac- 
cording to how much impact each had. Which changes 
required a great deal of coping or adjustment? Which 
ones were relatively minor? 

To Holmes’ and Rahe’s surprise, it turned out that 
there is widespread agreement among people as to 
which changes in their lives require major adaptations 
and which ones are comparatively unimportant. This 
agreement about the “impact-fullness” of various life 
events extends even across national and language bar- 

Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 329 

riers. 0 People tend to know and to agree on which 
changes hit the hardest. 

Given this information, Holmes and Rahe were able 
to assign a numerical weight to each type of life 
change. Thus each item on their list was ranked by 
its magnitude and given a score accordingly. For 
example, if the death of one’s spouse is rated as one 
hundred points, then moving to a new home is rated 
by most people as worth only twenty points, a vaca- 
tion thirteen. (The death of a spouse, incidentally, is 
almost universally regarded as the single most impact- 
ful change that can befall a person in the normal 
course of his life. ) 

Now Holmes and Rahe were ready for the next step. 
Armed with their Life-Change Units Scale, they be- 
gan to question people about the actual pattern of 
change in their lives. The scale made it possible to 
compare the “changefulness” of one person’s life with 
that of another. By studying the amount of change in 
a person’s life, could we learn anything about the 
influence of change itself on health? 

To find out, Holmes, Rahe and other researchers 
compiled the “life change scores” of literally thousands 
of individuals and began the laborious task of compar- 
ing these with the medical histories of these same 
individuals. Never before had there been a way to 
correlate change and health. Never before had there 
been such detailed data on patterns of change in indi- 
vidual lives. And seldom were the results of an experi- 
ment less ambiguous. In the United States and Japan, 
among servicemen and civilians, among pregnant 
women and the families of leukemia victims, among 
college athletes and retirees, the same striking pattern 
was present: those with high life change scores were 
more likely than their fellows to be ill in the following 
year. For the first time, it was possible to show in 
dramatic form that the rate of change in a person’s 

0 The work in the United States and Japan is now being 
supplemented by studies in France, Belgium and the Nether- 

330 The Limits of Adaptability 

life— his pace of life— is closely tied to the state of his 

“The results were so spectacular,” says Dr. Holmes, 
“that at first we hesitated to publish them. We didn’t 
release our initial findings until 1967.” 

Since then, the Life-Change Units Scale and the 
Life Changes Questionnaire have been applied to a 
wide variety of groups from unemployed blacks in 
Watts to naval officers at sea. In every case, the corre- 
lation between change and illness has held. It has been 
established that “alterations in life style” that require 
a great deal of adjustment and coping, correlate with 
illness— whether or not these changes are under the 
individual’s own direct control, whether or not he 
sees them as undesirable. Furthermore, the higher 
the degree of life change, the higher the risk that sub- 
sequent illness will be severe. So strong is this evi- 
dence, that it is becoming possible, by studying life 
change scores, actually to predict levels of illness in 
various populations. 

Thus in August, 1967, Commander Ransom J. Ar- 
thur, head of the United States Navy Medical Neuro- 
psychiatric Research Unit at San Diego, and Richard 
Rahe, now a Captain in Commander Arthur’s group, 
set out to forecast sickness patterns in a group of 3000 
Navy men. Drs. Arthur and Rahe began by distribut- 
ing a Life Changes Questionnaire to the sailors on 
three cruisers in San Diego harbor. The ships were 
about to depart and would be at sea for approximately 
six months each. During this time it would be possible 
to maintain exact medical records on each crew mem- 
ber. Could information about a man’s life change pat- 
tern tell us in advance the likelihood of his falling ill 
during the voyage? 

Each crew member was asked to tell what changes 
had occurred in his life during the year preceding 
the voyage. The questionnaire covered an extremely 
broad spectrum of topics. Thus it asked whether the 
man had experienced either more or less trouble with 
superiors dining the twelve-month period. It asked 

Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 331 

about alterations in his eating and sleeping habits. It 
inquired about change in his circle of friends, his 
dress, his forms of recreation. It asked whether he had 
experienced any change in his social activities, in 
family get-togethers, in his financial condition. Had he 
been having more or less trouble with his in-laws? 
More or fewer arguments with his wife? Had he 
gained a child through birth or adoption? Had he 
suffered the death of his wife, a friend or relative? 

The questionnaire went on to probe such issues as 
the number of times he had moved to a new home. 
Had he been in trouble with the law over traffic 
violations or other minor infractions? Had he spent a 
lot of time away from his wife as a result of job- 
related travel or marital difficulties? Had he changed 
jobs? Won awards or promotions? Had his living con- 
ditions changed as a consequence of home remodeling 
or the deterioration of his neighborhood? Had his 
wife started or stopped working? Had he taken out a 
loan or mortgage? How many times had he taken a 
vacation? Was there any major change in his relations 
with his parents as a result of death, divorce, remar- 
riage, etc.? 

In short, the questionnaire tried to get at the kind 
of life changes that are part of normal existence. It 
did not ask whether a change was regarded as “good” 
or “bad,” simply whether or not it had occurred. 

For six months, the three cruisers remained at sea. 
Just before they were scheduled to return, Arthur and 
Rahe flew new research teams out to join the ships. 
These teams proceeded to make a fine-tooth survey 
of the ships’ medical records. Which men had been ill? 
What diseases had they reported? How many days 
had they been confined to sick bay? 

When the last computer runs were completed, the 
linkage between changefulness and illness was nailed 
down more firmly than ever. Men in the upper ten 
percent of life change units— those who had had to 
adapt to the most change in the preceding year- 
turned out to suffer from one-and-a-half to two times 

332 The Limits of Adaptability 

as much illness as those in the bottom ten percent. 
Moreover, once again, the higher the life change score, 
the more severe the illness was likely to be. The study 
of life change patterns— of change as an environmental 
factor— contributed significantly to success in predict- 
ing the amount and severity of illness in widely varied 

“For the first time,” says Dr. Arthur, appraising life 
change research, “we have an index of change. If 
you’ve had many changes in your life within a short 
time, this places a great challenge on your body . . . 
An enormous number of changes within a short period 
might overwhelm its coping mechanisms. 

“It is clear,” he continues, “that there is a connec- 
tion between the body’s defenses and the demands 
for change that society imposes. We are in a continu- 
ous dynamic equilibrium ... Various ‘noxious’ ele- 
ments, both internal and external, are always present, 
always seeking to explode into disease. For example, 
certain viruses live in the body and cause disease only 
when the defenses of the body wear down. There may 
well be generalized body defense systems that prove 
inadequate to cope with the flood of demands for 
change that come pulsing through the nervous and 
endocrine systems." 

The stakes in life-change research are high, indeed, 
for not only illness, but death itself, may be linked to 
the severity of adaptational demands placed on the 
body. Thus a report by Arthur, Rahe, and a colleague, 
Dr. Joseph D. McKean, Jr., begins with a quotation 
from Somerset Maugham’s literary autobiography, The 
Summing Up: 

My father . . . went to Paris and became solicitor 
to the British Embassy. . . . After my mother’s death, 
her maid became my nurse. ... I think my father had 
a romantic mind. He took it into his head to build a 
house to five in during the summer. He bought a 
piece of land on the top of a hill at Suresnes. . . . 

It was to be like a villa on the Bosphorous and on 

Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 333 

the top floor it was surrounded by loggias. ... It 

was a white house and the shutters were painted red. 

The garden was laid out. The rooms were furnished 

and then my father died. 

“The death of Somerset Maugham’s father,” they 
write, “seems at first glance to have been an abrupt 
unheralded event. However, a critical evaluation of 
the events of a year or two prior to the father’s demise 
reveals changes in his occupation, residence, person- 
al habits, finances and family constellation.” These 
changes, they suggest, may have been precipitating 

This line of reasoning is consistent with reports that 
death rates among widows and widowers, during the 
first year after loss of a spouse, are higher than normal. 
A series of British studies have strongly suggested that 
the shock of widowhood weakens resistance to illness 
and tends to accelerate aging. The same is true for 
men. Scientists at the Institute of Community Studies 
in London, after reviewing the evidence and studying 
4,486 widowers, declare that “the excess mortality in 
the first six months is almost certainly real . . . [Widow- 
erhood] appears to bring in its wake a sudden incre- 
ment in mortality-rates of something like 40 percent 
in the first six months.” 

Why should this be true? It is speculated that grief, 
itself, leads to pathology. Yet the answer may lie not 
in the state of grief at all, but in the very high impact 
that loss of a spouse carries, forcing the survivor to 
make a multitude of major fife changes within a short 
period after the death takes place. 

The work of Hinkle, Holmes, Rahe, Arthur, McKean 
and others now probing the relationship of change to 
illness is still in its early stages. Yet one lesson already 
seems vividly clear: change carries a physiological 
price tag with it. And the more radical the change, 
the steeper the price. 


The Limits of Adaptability 


“Life,” says Dr. Hinkle, . . implies a constant inter- 
action between organism and environment.” When we 
speak of the change brought about by divorce or a 
death in the family or a job transfer or even a vaca- 
tion, we are talking about a major life event. Yet, as 
everyone knows, life consists of tiny events as well, 
a constant stream of them flowing into and out of our 
experience. Any major life change is major only be- 
cause it forces us to make many little changes as well, 
and these, in turn, consist of still smaller and smaller 
changes. To grapple with the meaning of life in the 
accelerative society, we need to see what happens at 
the level of these minute, “micro-changes as well. 

What happens when something in our environment 
is altered? All of us are constantly bathed in a shower 
of signals from our environment— visual, auditory, 
tactile, etc. Most of these come in routine, repetitive 
patterns. When something changes within the range 
of our senses, the pattern of signals pouring through 
our sensory channels into our nervous system is modi- 
fied. The routine, repetitive patterns are interrupted 
—and to this interruption we respond in a particularly 
acute fashion. 

Significantly, when some new set of stimuli hits us, 
both body and brain know almost instantly that they 
are new. The change may be no more than a flash of 
color seen out of the comer of an eye. It may be that 
a loved one brushing us tenderly with the fingertips 
momentarily hesitates. Whatever the change, an enor- 
mous amount of physical machinery comes into play. 

When a dog hears a strange noise, his ears prick, his 
head turns. And we do much the same. The change 
in stimuli triggers what experimental psychologists 
call an “orientation response.” The orientation response 
or OR is a complex, even massive bodily operation. 
The pupils of the eyes dilate. Photochemical changes 

Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 335 

occur in the retina. Our hearing becomes momentarily 
more acute. We involuntarily use our muscles to direct 
our sense organs toward the incoming stimuli— we lean 
toward the sound, for example, or squint our eyes to 
see better. Our general muscle tone rises. There are 
changes in our pattern of brain waves. Our fingers 
and toes grow cold as the veins and arteries in them 
constrict. Our palms sweat. Blood rushes to the head. 
Our breathing and heart rate alter. 

Under certain circumstances, we may do all of this— 
and more— in a very obvious fashion, exhibiting what 
has been called the “startle reaction.” But even when 
we are unaware of what is going on, these changes 
take place every time we perceive novelty in our en- 

The reason for this is that we have, apparently built 
into our brains, a special novelty-detection apparatus 
that has only recently come to the attention of neurol- 
ogists. The Soviet scientist E. N. Sokolov, who has put 
forward the most comprehensive explanation of how 
the orientation response works, suggests that neural 
cells in the brain store information about the intensity, 
duration, quality, and sequence of incoming stimuli. 
When new stimuli arrive, these are matched against 
the “neural models” in the cortex. If the stimuli are 
novel, they do not match any existing neural model, 
and the OR takes place. If, however, the matching 
process reveals their similarity to previously stored 
models, the cortex shoots signals to the reticular acti- 
vating system, instructing it, in effect, to hold its fire. 

In this way, the level of novelty in our environment 
has direct physical consequences. Moreover, it is vital 
to recognize that the OR is not an unusual affair. It 
takes place in most of us literally thousands of times 
in the course of a single day as various changes occur 
in the environment around us. Again and again the OR 
fires off, even during sleep. 

“The OR is big!” says research psychologist Ardie 
Lubin, an expert on sleep mechanisms. “The whole 
body is involved. And when you increase novelty in 

336 The Limits of Adaptability 

the environment— which is what a lot of change means 
—you get continual ORs with it. This is probably very 
stressful for the body. It’s a helluva load to put on 
the body. 

“If you overload an environment with novelty, you 
get the equivalent of anxiety neurotics— people who 
have their systems continually flooded with adrenalin, 
continual heart pumping, cold hands, increased muscle 
tone and tremors— all the usual OR characteristics.” 

The orientation response is no accident. It is nature’s 
gift to man, one of his key adaptive mechanisms. The 
OR has the effect of sensitizing him to take in more 
information— to see or hear better, for instance. It 
readies his muscles for sudden exertion, if necessary. 
In short, it prepares him for fight or flight. Yet each 
OR, as Lubin underscores, takes its toll in wear and 
tear on the body, for it requires energy to sustain it. 

Thus one result of the OR is to send a surge of 
anticipatory energy through the body. Stored energy 
exists in such sites as the muscles and the sweat 
glands. As the neural system pulses in response to 
novelty, its synaptic vesicles discharge small amounts 
of adrenalin and nor-adrenalin. These, in turn, trigger 
a partial release of the stored energy. In short, each 
OR draws not only upon the body’s limited supply of 
quick energy, but on its even more limited supply of 

It needs to be emphasized, moreover, that the OR 
occurs not merely in response to simple sensory inputs. 
It happens when we come across novel ideas or in- 
formation as well as novel sights or sounds. A fresh 
bit of office gossip, a unifying concept, even a new 
joke or an original turn of phrase can trigger it. 

The OR is particularly stressing when a novel event 
or fact challenges one’s whole preconceived world 
view. Given an elaborate ideology, Catholicism, Marx- 
ism or whatever, we quickly recognize (or think we 
recognize) familiar elements in otherwise novel stim- 
uli, and this puts us at ease. Indeed, ideologies may be 
regarded as large mental filing cabinets with vacant 

Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 337 

drawers or slots waiting to accept new data. For this 
reason, ideologies serve to reduce the intensity and 
frequency of the OR. 

It is only when a new fact fails to fit, when it 
resists filing, that the OR occurs. A classical example 
is that of the religious person who is brought up to 
believe in the goodness of God and who is suddenly 
faced by what strikes him as a case of overwhelming, 
senseless evil. Until the new fact can be reconciled or 
his world view altered, he suffers acute agitation and 

The OR is so inherently stressing that we enjoy a 
vast sense of relief when it is over. At the level of ideas 
or cognition, this is the “a-hah!” reaction we experi- 
ence at a moment of revelation, when we finally 
understand something that has been puzzling us. We 
may be aware of the “a-hah” reaction on rare occa- 
sions only, but OR’s and “a-hah ’s” are continually 
occurring just below the level of consciousness. 

Novelty, therefore— any perceptible novelty— touches 
off explosive activity within the body, and especially 
the nervous system. OR’s fire off like flashbulbs within 
us, at a rate determined by what is happening outside 
us. Man and environment are in constant, quivering 


While novelty in the environment raises or lowers the 
rate at which OR’s occur, some novel conditions call 
forth even more powerful responses. We are driving 
along a monotonous turnpike, listening to the radio 
and beginning to daydream. Suddenly, a car speeds 
by, forcing us to swerve out of our lane. We react 
automatically, almost instantaneously, and the OR is 
very pronounced. We can feel our heart pumping and 
our hands shaking. It takes a while before the tension 

But what if it does not subside? What happens when 

338 The Limits of Adaptability 

we are placed in a situation that demands a complex 
set of physical and psychological reactions and in 
which the pressure is sustained? What happens if, for 
example, the boss breathes hotly down our collar day 
after day? What happens when one of our children is 
seriously ill? Or when, on the other hand, we look 
forward eagerly to a “big date” or to closing an im- 
portant business deal? 

Such situations cannot be handled by the quick 
spurt of energy provided by the OR, and for these 
we have what might be termed the “adaptive reac- 
tion.” This is closely related to the OR. Indeed, the 
two processes are so intertwined that the OR can be 
regarded as part of, or the initial phase of, the larger, 
more encompassing adaptive reaction. But while the 
OR is primarily based on the nervous system, the 
adaptive reaction is heavily dependent upon the endo- 
crine glands and the hormones they shoot into the 
bloodstream. The first line of defense is neural; the 
second is hormonal. 

When individuals are forced to make repeated 
adaptations to novelty, and especially when they are 
compelled to adapt to certain situations involving 
conflict and uncertainty, a pea-sized gland called the 
pituitary pumps out a number of substances. One of 
these, ACTH, goes to the adrenals. This causes them, 
in turn, to manufacture certain chemicals termed 
corticosteroids. When these are released, they speed 
up body metabolism. They raise blood pressure. They 
send anti-inflammatory substances through the blood 
to fight infection at wound sites, if any. And they be- 
gin turning fat and protein into dispersible energy, 
thus tapping into the body’s reserve tank of energy. 
The adaptive reaction provides a much more potent 
and sustained flush of energy than the OR. 

Like the orientation response, the adaptive reaction 
is no rarity. It takes longer to arouse and it lasts 
longer, but it happens countless times even within the 
course of a single day, responding to changes in our 
physical and social environment. The adaptive reac- 

Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 339 

tion, sometimes known by the more dramatic term 
“stress,” can be touched off by shifts and changes in 
the psychological climate around us. Worry, upset, 
conflict, uncertainty, even happy anticipation, hilarity 
and joy, all set the ACTH factory working. The very 
anticipation of change can trigger the adaptive reac- 
tion. The need to alter one’s way of life, to trade an 
old job for a new one, social pressures, status shifts, 
life style modifications, in fact, anything that forces 
us to confront the unknown, can switch on the adap- 
tive reaction. 

Dr. Lennart Levi, director of the Clinical Stress 
Laboratory at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, 
has shown, for example, that even quite small changes 
in the emotional climate or in interpersonal relation- 
ships can produce marked changes in body chemistry. 
Stress is frequently measured by the amount of corti- 
costeroids and catecholamines (adrenalin and nor- 
adrenalin, for example ) found in the blood and urine. 
In one series of experiments Levi used films to gen- 
erate emotions and plotted the resultant chemical 

A group of Swedish male medical students were 
shown film clips depicting murders, fights, torture, 
execution and cruelty to animals. The adrenalin com- 
ponent of their urine rose an average 70 percent as 
measured before and after. Nor-adrenalin rose an 
average 35 percent. Next a group of young female 
office workers were shown four different films on 
successive nights. The first was a bland travelog. They 
reported feelings of calmness and equanimity, and 
their output of catecholamines fell. The second night 
they watched Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and 
reported feeling intense excitement and anger. Adrena- 
lin output shot upward. The third night they viewed 
Charleys Aunt, and roared with laughter at the com- 
edy. Despite the pleasant feelings and the absence of 
any scenes of aggression or violence, their catechola- 
mines rose significantly again. The fourth night they 
saw The Devil’s Mask, a thriller during which they 


The Limits of Adaptability 

actually screamed with fright. Not unexpectedly, 
catecholamine output soared. In short, emotional re- 
sponse, almost without regard for its character, is 
accompanied by ( or, indeed, reflects ) adrenal activity. 

Similar findings have been demonstrated again and 
again in the case of men and women— not to speak of 
rats, dogs, deer and other experimental animals— in- 
volved in “real” as distinct from “vicarious” experi- 
ences. Sailors in underwater demolition training, men 
stationed in lonely outposts in Antarctica, astronauts, 
factory workers, executives have all shown similar 
chemical responsiveness to change in the external en- 

The implications of this have hardly begun to 
register, yet there is increasing evidence that repeated 
stimulation of the adaptive reaction can be seriously 
damaging, that excessive activation of the endocrine 
system leads to irreversible “wear and tear.” Thus, 
we are warned by Dr. Rene Dubos, author of Man 
Adapting, that such changeful circumstances as “com- 
petitive situations, operation within a crowded en- 
vironment, change in a very profound manner the 
secretion of hormones. One can type-read that in the 
blood or the urine. Just a mere contact with the com- 
plex human situation almost automatically brings this 
about, this stimulation of the whole endocrine system.” 

What of it? 

“There is,” Dubos declares, “absolutely no question 
that one can overshoot the stimulation of the endo- 
crine system and that this has physiological conse- 
quences that last throughout the whole lifetime of the 

Years ago, Dr. Hans Selye, a pioneer investigator of 
the body’s adaptive responses, reported that “animals 
in which intense and prolonged stress is produced by 
any means suffer from sexual derangements . . . Clini- 
cal studies have confirmed the fact that people ex- 
posed to stress react very much like experimental 
animals in all these respects. In women the monthly 
cycles become irregular or stop altogether, and during 

Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 341 

lactation milk secretion may become insufficient for 
the baby. In men both the sexual urge and sperm-cell 
formation are diminished.” 

Since then population experts and ecologists have 
compiled impressive evidence that heavily stressed 
populations of rats, deer— and people— show lower fer- 
tility levels than less stressed control groups. Crowd- 
ing, for example, a condition that involves a constant 
high level of interpersonal interaction and compels 
the individual to make extremely frequent adaptive 
reactions has been shown, at least in animals, to en- 
large the adrenals and cause a noticeable drop in 

The repeated firing of the OR and the adaptive re- 
action, by overloading the neural and endocrine sys- 
tems, is linked to other diseases and physical problems 
as well. Rapid change in the environment makes 
repeated calls on the energy supply of the body. This 
leads to a speedup of fat metabolism. In turn, this 
creates grave difficulties for certain diabetics. Even 
the common cold has been shown to be affected by 
the rate of change in the environment. In studies 
reported by Dr. Hinkle it was found that the frequency 
of colds in a sample of New York working women 
correlated with “changes in the mood and pattern of 
activity of the woman, in response to changing rela- 
tionships to the people around her and the events that 
she encountered.” 

In short, if we understand the chain of biological 
events touched off by our efforts to adapt to change 
and novelty, we can begin to understand why health 
and change seem to be inextricably linked to one 
another. The findings of Holmes, Rahe, Arthur and 
others now engaged in fife change research are en- 
tirely compatible with on-going research in endocri- 
nology and experimental psychology. It is quite clearly 
impossible to accelerate the rate of change in society, 
or to raise the novelty ratio in society, without trig- 
gering significant changes in the body chemistry of 
the population. By stepping up the pace of scientific, 

342 The Limits of Adaptability 

technological and social change, we are tampering 
with the chemistry and biological stability of the 
human race. 

This, one must immediately add, is not necessarily 
bad. “There are worse things than illness,” Dr. Holmes 
wryly reminds us. “No one can live without experienc- 
ing some degree of stress all the time,” Dr. Selye has 
written. To eliminate ORs and adaptive reactions 
would be to eliminate all change, including growth, 
self-development, maturation. It presupposes complete 
stasis. Change is not merely necessary to life; it is life. 
By the same token, life is adaptation. 

There are, however, limits on adaptability. When 
we alter our life style, when we make and break 
relationships with things, places or people, when we 
move restlessly through the organizational geography 
of society, when we learn new information and ideas, 
we adapt; we live. Yet there are finite boundaries; we 
are not infinitely resilient. Each orientation response, 
each adaptive reaction exacts a price, wearing down 
the body’s machinery bit by minute bit, until per- 
ceptible tissue damage results. 

Thus man remains in the end what he started as in 
the beginning: a biosystem with a limited capacity 
for change. When this capacity is overwhelmed, the 
consequence is future shock. 

Chapter 16 



If future shock were a matter of physical illness alone, 
it might be easier to prevent and to treat. But future 
shock attacks the psyche as well. Just as the body 
cracks under the strain of environmental overstimula- 
tion, the “mind” and its decision processes behave 
erratically when overloaded. By indiscriminately rac- 
ing the engines of change, we may be undermining 
not merely the health of those least able to adapt, but 
their very ability to act rationally on their own behalf. 

The striking signs of confusional breakdown we see 
around us— the spreading use of drugs, the rise of 
mysticism, the recurrent outbreaks of vandalism and 
undirected violence, the politics of nihilism and nostal- 
gia, the sick apathy of millions— can all be understood 
better by recognizing their relationship to future 
shock. These forms of social irrationality may well 
reflect the deterioration of individual decision-making 
under conditions of environmental overstimulation. 

Psychophysiologists studying the impact of change 
on various organisms have shown that successful adap- 
tation can occur only when the level of stimulation— 
the amount of change and novelty in the environment 
—is neither too low nor too high. “The central nervous 
system of a higher animal,” says Professor D. E. Ber- 
lyne of the University of Toronto, “is designed to cope 



The Limits of Adaptability 

with environments that produce a certain rate of . . . 
stimulation ... It will naturally not perform at its 
best in an environment that overstresses or overloads 
it.” He makes the same point about environments that 
understimulate it. Indeed, experiments with deer, 
dogs, mice and men all point unequivocally to the 
existence of what might be called an “adaptive range” 
below which and above which the individual’s ability 
to cope simply falls apart. 

Future shock is the response to overstimulation. It 
occurs when the individual is forced to operate above 
his adaptive range. Considerable research has been 
devoted to studying the impact of inadequate change 
and novelty on human performance. Studies of men 
in isolated Antarctic outposts, experiments in sensory 
deprivation, investigations into on-the-job performance 
in factories, all show a falling off of mental and physi- 
cal abilities in response to understimulation. We have 
less direct data on the impact of overstimulation, but 
such evidence as does exist is dramatic and unsettling. 


Soldiers in battle often find themselves trapped in 
environments that are rapidly changing, unfamiliar, 
and unpredictable. The soldier is tom this way and 
that. Shells burst on every side. Bullets whiz past 
erratically. Flares light the sky. Shouts, groans and 
explosions fill his ears. Circumstances change from 
instant to instant. To survive in such overstimulating 
environments, the soldier is driven to operate in the 
upper reaches of his adaptive range. Sometimes, he is 
pushed beyond his limits. 

During World War II a bearded Chindit soldier, 
fighting with General Wingate’s forces behind the 
Japanese lines in Burma, actually fell asleep while a 
storm of machine gun bullets splattered around him. 
Subsequent investigation revealed that this soldier 
was not merely reacting to physical fatigue or lack of 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 345 

sleep, but surrendering to a sense of overpowering 

Death-inviting lassitude was so common, in fact, 
among guerrilla troops who had penetrated behind 
enemy lines that British military physicians gave it a 
name. They termed it Long Range Penetration Strain. 
A soldier who suffered from it became, in their words, 
“incapable of doing the simplest thing for himself and 
seemed to have the mind of a child.” This deadly 
lethargy, moreover, was not confined to guerrilla 
troops. One year after the Chindit incident, similar 
symptoms cropped up en masse among the allied 
troops who invaded Normandy, and British research- 
ers, after studying 5000 American and English combat 
casualties, concluded that this strange apathy was 
merely the final stage in a complex process of psycho- 
logical collapse. 

Mental deterioration often began with fatigue. This 
was followed by confusion and nervous irritability. 
The man became hypersensitive to the slightest stimuli 
around him. He would “hit the dirt” at the least provo- 
cation. He showed signs of bewilderment. He seemed 
unable to distinguish the sound of enemy fire from 
other, less threatening sounds. He became tense, anx- 
ious, and heatedly irascible. His comrades never knew 
when he would flail out in anger, even violence, in 
response to minor inconvenience. 

Then the final stage of emotional exhaustion set in. 
The soldier seemed to lose the very will to live. He 
gave up the struggle to save himself, to guide himself 
rationally through the battle. He became, in the words 
of R. L. Swank, who headed the British investigation, 
“dull and listless . . . mentally and physically retarded, 
preoccupied.” Even his face became dull and apa- 
thetic. The fight to adapt had ended in defeat. The 
stage of total withdrawal was reached. 

That men behave irrationally, acting against their 
own clear interest, when thrown into conditions of 
high change and novelty is also borne out by studies 
of human behavior in times of fire, flood, earthquake 

346 The Limits of Adaptability 

and other crises. Even the most stable and "normal” 
people, unhurt physically, can be hurled into anti- 
adaptive states. Often reduced to total confusion and 
mindlessness, they seem incapable of the most ele- 
mentary rational decision-making. 

Thus in a study of the responses to tornadoes in 
Texas, H. E. Moore writes that "the first reaction . . . 
may be one of dazed bewilderment, sometimes one of 
disbelief, or at least of refusal to accept the fact. This, 
it seems to us, is the essential explanation of the be- 
havior of persons and groups in Waco when it was 
devastated in 1953 . . . On the personal level, it ex- 
plains why a girl climbed into a music store through a 
broken display window, calmly purchased a record, 
and walked out again, even though the plate glass 
front of the building had blown out and articles were 
flying through the air inside the building.” 

A study of a tornado in Udall, Kansas, quotes a 
housewife as saying: “After it was over, my husband 
and I just got up and jumped out the window and ran. 
I don’t know where we were running to but ... I 
didn’t care. I just wanted to run.” The classic disas- 
ter photograph shows a mother holding a dead or 
wounded baby in her arms, her face blank and numb 
as though she could no longer comprehend the reality 
around her. Sometimes she sits rocking gently on her 
porch with a doll, instead of a baby, in her arms. 

In disaster, therefore, exactly as in certain combat 
situations, individuals can be psychologically over- 
whelmed. Once again the source may be traced to a 
high level of environmental stimulation. The disaster 
victim finds himself suddenly caught in a situation in 
which familiar objects and relationships are trans- 
formed. Where once his house stood, there may be 
nothing more than smoking rubble. He may encounter 
a cabin floating on the flood tide or a rowboat sailing 
through the air. The environment is filled with change 
and novelty. And once again the response is marked 
by confusion, anxiety, irritability and withdrawal into 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 347 

Culture shock, the profound disorientation suffered 
by the traveler who has plunged without adequate 
preparation into an alien culture, provides a third 
example of adaptive breakdown. Here we find none 
of the obvious elements of war or disaster. The scene 
may be totally peaceful and riskless. Yet the situation 
demands repeated adaptation to novel conditions. Cul- 
ture shock, according to psychologist Sven Lundstedt, 
is a “form of personality maladjustment which is a 
reaction to a temporarily unsuccessful attempt to ad- 
just to new surroundings and people.” 

The culture shocked person, like the soldier and 
disaster victim, is forced to grapple with unfamiliar 
and unpredictable events, relationships and objects. 
His habitual ways of accomplishing things— even sim- 
ple tasks like placing a telephone call— are no longer 
appropriate. The strange society may itself be chang- 
ing only very slowly, yet for him it is all new. Signs, 
sounds and other psychological cues rush past him 
before he can grasp their meaning. The entire experi- 
ence takes on a surrealistic air. Every word, every 
action is shot through with uncertainty. 

In this setting, fatigue arrives more quickly than 
usual. Along with it, the cross-cultural traveler often 
experiences what Lundstedt describes as “a subjec- 
tive feeling of loss, and a sense of isolation and loneli- 

The unpredictability arising from novelty under- 
mines his sense of reality. Thus he longs, as Professor 
Lundstedt puts it, “for an environment in which the 
gratification of important psychological and physical 
needs is predictable and less uncertain.” He becomes 
“anxious, confused and often appears apathetic.” In 
fact, Lundstedt concludes, “culture shock can be 
viewed as a response to stress by emotional and 
intellectual withdrawal.” 

It is hard to read these (and many other) accounts 
of behavior breakdown under a variety of stresses 
without becoming acutely aware of their similarities. 
While there are differences, to be sure, between a 


The Limits of Adaptability 

soldier in combat, a disaster victim, and a culturally 
dislocated traveler, all three face rapid change, high 
novelty, or both. All three are required to adapt rapid- 
ly and repeatedly to unpredictable stimuli. And there 
are striking parallels in the way all three respond to 
this overstimulation. 

First, we find the same evidences of confusion, 
disorientation, or distortion of reality. Second, there 
are the same signs of fatigue, anxiety, tenseness, or 
extreme irritability. Third, in all cases there appears 
to be a point of no return— a point at which apathy 
and emotional withdrawal set in. 

In short, the available evidence strongly suggests 
that overstimulation may lead to bizarre and anti- 
adaptive behavior. 


We still know too little about this phenomenon to ex- 
plain authoritatively why overstimulation seems to 
produce maladaptive behavior. Yet we pick up im- 
portant clues if we recognize that overstimulation can 
occur on at least three different levels: the sensory, 
the cognitive and the decisional.® 

The easiest to understand is the sensory level. 
Experiments in sensory deprivation, during which 
volunteers are cut off from normal stimulation of their 
senses, have shown that the absence of novel sensory 
stimuli can lead to bewilderment and impaired mental 
functioning. By the same token, the input of too much 
disorganized, patternless or chaotic sensory stimuli 
can have similar effects. It is for this reason that prac- 
titioners of political or religious brainwashing make 
use not only of sensory deprivation (solitary confine- 

* The line between each of these is not completely clear, 
even to psychologists, but if we simply, in commonsense fash- 
ion, equate the sensory level with perceiving, the cognitive 
with thinking, and the decisional with deciding, we will not go 
too far astray. 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 349 

ment, for example) but of sensory bombardment in- 
volving flashing lights, rapidly shifting patterns of 
color, chaotic sound effects— the whole arsenal of psy- 
chedelic kaleidoscopy. 

The religious fervor and bizarre behavior of certain 
hippie cultists may arise not merely from drug abuse, 
but from group experimentation with both sensory 
deprivation and bombardment. The chanting of mo- 
notonous mantras, the attempt to focus the individual’s 
attention on interior, bodily sensation to the exclusion 
of outside stimuli, are efforts to induce the weird and 
sometimes hallucinatory effects of understimulation. 

At the other end of the scale, we note the glazed 
stares and numb, expressionless faces of youthful 
dancers at the great rock music auditoriums where 
light shows, split-screen movies, high decibel screams, 
shouts and moans, grotesque costumes and writhing, 
painted bodies create a sensory environment char- 
acterized by high input and extreme unpredictability 
and novelty. 

An organism’s ability to cope with sensory input is 
dependent upon its physiological structure. The nature 
of its sense organs and the speed with which impulses 
flow through its neural system set biological bounds 
on the quantity of sensory data it can accept. If we 
examine the speed of signal transmission within vari- 
ous organisms, we find that the lower the evolutionary 
level, the slower the movement. Thus, for example, in 
a sea urchin egg, lacking a nervous system as such, a 
signal moves along a membrane at a rate of about 
a centimeter an hour. Clearly, at such a rate, the or- 
ganism can respond to only a very limited part of its 
environment. By the time we move up the ladder to a 
jellyfish, which already has a primitive nervous sys- 
tem, the signal travels 36,000 times faster: ten centi- 
meters per second. In a worm, the rate leaps to 100 
cps. Among insects and crustaceans, neural pulses 
race along at 1000 cps. Among anthropoids the rate 
reaches 10,000 cps. Crude as these figures no doubt 


The Limits of Adaptability 

are, they help explain why man is unquestionably 
among the most adaptable of creatures. 

Yet even in man, with a neural transmission rate of 
about 30,000 cps, the boundaries of the system are 
imposing. (Electrical signals in a computer, by con- 
trast, travel billions of times faster.) The limitations 
of the sense organs and nervous system mean that 
many environmental events occur at rates too fast for 
us to follow, and we are reduced to sampling experi- 
ence at best. When the signals reaching us are regu- 
lar and repetitive, this sampling process can yield a 
fairly good mental representation of reality. But when 
it is highly disorganized, when it is novel and unpre- 
dictable, the accuracy of our imagery is necessarily 
reduced. Our image of reality is distorted. This may 
explain why, when we experience sensory overstimu- 
lation, we suffer confusion, a blurring of the line be- 
tween illusion and reality. 


If overstimulation at the sensory level increases the 
distortion with which we perceive reality, cognitive 
overstimulation interferes with our ability to “think.” 
While some human responses to novelty are involun- 
tary, others are preceded by conscious thought, and 
this depends upon our ability to absorb, manipulate, 
evaluate and retain information. 

Rational behavior, in particular, depends upon a 
ceaseless flow of data from the environment. It de- 
pends upon the power of the individual to predict, 
with at least fair success, the outcome of his own 
actions. To do this, he must be able to predict how 
the environment will respond to his acts. Sanity, itself, 
thus hinges on man’s ability to predict his immediate, 
personal future on the basis of information fed him 
by the environment. 

When the individual is plunged into a fast and 
irregularly changing situation, or a novelty -loaded 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 351 

context, however, his predictive accuracy plummets. 
He can no longer make the reasonably correct assess- 
ments on which rational behavior is dependent. 

To compensate for this, to bring his accuracy up to 
the normal level again, he must scoop up and process 
far more information than before. And he must do this 
at extremely high rates of speed. In short, the more 
rapidly changing and novel the environment, the more 
information the individual needs to process in order to 
make effective, rational decisions. 

Yet just as there are limits on how much sensory 
input we can accept, there are in-built constraints on 
our ability to process information. In the words of 
psychologist George A. Miller of Rockefeller Univer- 
sity, there are “severe limitations on the amount of 
information that we are able to receive, process, and 
remember.” By classifying information, by abstracting 
and “coding” it in various ways, we manage to stretch 
these limits, yet ample evidence demonstrates that our 
capabilities are finite. 

To discover these outer limits, psychologists and 
communications theorists have set about testing what 
they call the “channel capacity” of the human orga- 
nism. For the purpose of these experiments, they 
regard man as a “channel.” Information enters from 
the outside. It is processed. It exits in the form of 
actions based on decisions. The speed and accuracy 
of human information processing can be measured by 
comparing the speed of information input with the 
speed and accuracy of output. 

Information has been defined technically and mea- 
sured in terms of units called “bits.”* By now, ex- 
periments have established rates for the processing 
involved in a wide variety of tasks from reading, 
typing, and playing the piano to manipulating dials 
or doing mental arithmetic. And while researchers 

* A bit is the amount of information needed to make a 
decision between two equally likely alternatives. The number 
of bits needed increases by one as the number of such alterna- 
tives doubles. 

352 The Limits of Adaptability 

differ as to the exact figures, they strongly agree on 
two basic principles : first, that man has limited capac- 
ity; and second, that overloading the system leads to 
serious breakdown of performance. 

Imagine, for example, an assembly line wnrker in a 
factory making childrens’ blocks. His job is to press 
a button each time a red block passes in front of him 
on the conveyor belt. So long as the belt moves at a 
reasonable speed, he will have little difficulty. His 
performance will approach 100 percent accuracy. We 
know that if the pace is too slow 7 , his mind will win- 
der, and his performance will deteriorate. We also 
know that if the belt moves too fast, he will falter, 
miss, grow 7 confused and uncoordinated. He is likely 
to become tense and irritable. He may even take a 
sw 7 at at the machine out of pure frustration. Ultimate- 
ly, he will give up trying to keep pace. 

Here the information demands are simple, but 
picture a more complex task. Now 7 the blocks stream- 
ing dowm the line are of many different colors. His 
instructions are to press the button only w T hen a cer- 
tain color pattern appears— a yellow block, say, fol- 
lowed by two reds and a green. In this task, he must 
take in and process far more information before he 
can decide whether or not to hit the button. All other 
things being equal, he will have even greater difficulty 
keeping up as the pace of the line accelerates. 

In a still more demanding task, we not only force 
the w 7 orker to process a lot of data before deciding 
whether to hit the button, but w 7 e then force him to 
decide which of several buttons to press. We can also 
vary the number of times each button must be pressed. 
Now his instructions might read: For color pattern 
yellow 7 -red-red-green, hit button number two once; for 
pattern green-blue-velknv-green, hit button number 
six three times; and so forth. Such tasks require the 
worker to process a large amount of data in order to 
carry out his task. Speeding up the conveyor now will 
destroy his accuracy even more rapidly. 

Experiments like these have been built up to dis- 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 353 

maying degrees of complexity. Tests have involved 
flashing lights, musical tones, letters, symbols, spoken 
words, and a wide array of other stimuli. And sub- 
jects, asked to drum fingertips, speak phrases, solve 
puzzles, and perform an assortment of other tasks, 
have been reduced to blithering ineptitude. 

The results unequivocally show that no matter 
what the task, there is a speed above which it cannot 
be performed— and not simply because of inadequate 
muscular dexterity. The top speed is often imposed 
by mental rather than muscular limitations. These ex- 
periments also reveal that the greater the number of 
alternative courses of action open to the subject, the 
longer it takes him to reach a decision and carry it 

Clearly, these findings can help us understand cer- 
tain forms of psychological upset. Managers plagued 
by demands for rapid, incessant and complex deci- 
sions; pupils deluged with facts and hit with repeated 
tests; housewives confronted with squalling children, 
jangling telephones, broken washing machines, the 
wail of rock and roll from the teenagers living room 
and the whine of the television set in the parlor— may 
well find their ability to think and act clearly impaired 
by the waves of information crashing into their senses. 
It is more than possible that some of the symptoms 
noted among battle-stressed soldiers, disaster victims, 
and culture shocked travelers are related to this kind 
of information overload. 

One of the men who has pioneered in information 
studies, Dr. James G. Miller, director of the Mental 
Health Research Institute at the University of Mich- 
igan, states flatly that “Glutting a person with more 
information than he can process may . . . lead to dis- 
turbance.” He suggests, in fact, that information over- 
load may be related to various forms of mental illness. 

One of the striking features of schizophrenia, for 
example, is “incorrect associative response.” Ideas and 
words that ought to be linked in the subject’s mind 
are not, and vice versa. The schizophrenic tends to 

354 The Limits of Adaptability 

think in arbitrary or highly personalized categories. 
Confronted with a set of blocks of various kinds— 
triangles, cubes, cones, etc.— the normal person is likely 
to categorize them in terms of geometric shape. The 
schizophrenic asked to classify them is just as likely to 
say “They are all soldiers” or “They all make me feel 

In the volume Disorders of Communication, Miller 
describes experiments using word association tests to 
compare normals and schizophrenics. Normal subjects 
were divided into two groups, and asked to associate 
various words with other words or concepts. One 
group worked at its own pace. Tfie other worked 
under time pressure— i.e., under conditions of rapid 
information input. The time-pressed subjects came up 
with responses more like those of schizophrenics than 
of self-paced normals. 

Similar experiments conducted by psychologists G. 
Usdansky and L. J. Chapman made possible a more 
refined analysis of the types of errors made by subjects 
working under forced-pace, high information-input 
rates. They, too, concluded that increasing the speed 
of response brought out a pattern of errors among 
normals that is peculiarly characteristic of schizo- 

“One might speculate,” Miller suggests, “. . . that 
schizophrenia (by some as-yet-unknown process, per- 
haps a metabolic fault which increases neural noise’) 
lowers the capacities of channels involved in cognitive 
information processing. Schizophrenics consequently 
. . . have difficulties in coping with information inputs 
at standard rates like the difficulties experienced by 
normals at rapid rates. As a result, schizophrenics 
make errors at standard rates like those made by 
normals under fast, forced-input rates.” 

In short, Miller argues, the breakdown of human 
performance under heavy information loads may be 
related to psychopathology in ways we have not yet 
begun to explore. Yet, even without understanding 
its potential impact, we are accelerating the general- 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 355 

ized rate of change in society. We are forcing people 
to adapt to a new life pace, to confront novel situa- 
tions and master them in ever shorter intervals. We 
are forcing them to choose among fast-multiplying op- 
tions. We are, in other words, forcing them to process 
information at a far more rapid pace than was neces- 
sary in slowly-evolving societies. There can be little 
doubt that we are subjecting at least some of them 
to cognitive overstimulation. What consequences this 
may have for mental health in the techno-societies has 
yet to be determined. 


Whether we are submitting masses of men to informa- 
tion overload or not, we are affecting their behavior 
negatively by imposing on them still a third form 
of overstimulation— decision stress. Many individuals 
trapped in dull or slowly changing environments yeam 
to break out into new jobs or roles that require them 
to make faster and more complex decisions. But among 
the people of the future, the problem is reversed. 
“Decisions, decisions . . they mutter as they race 
anxiously from task to task. The reason they feel 
harried and upset is that transience, novelty and di- 
versity pose contradictory demands and thus place 
them in an excruciating double bind. 

The accelerative thrust and its psychological coun- 
terpart, transience, force us to quicken the tempo of 
private and public decision-making. New needs, novel 
emergencies and crises demand rapid response. 

Yet the very newness of the circumstances brings 
about a revolutionary change in the nature of the deci- 
sions they are called upon to make. The rapid injec- 
tion of novelty into the environment upsets the delicate 
balance of “programmed” and “non-programmed” de- 
cisions in our organizations and our private lives. 

A programmed decision is one that is routine, 
repetitive and easy to make. The commuter stands at 

356 The Limits of Adaptability 

the edge of the platform as the 8:05 rattles to a stop. 
He climbs aboard, as he has done every day for 
months or years. Having long ago decided that the 
8:05 is the most convenient run on the schedule, 
the actual decision to board the train is programmed. 
It seems more like a reflex than a decision at all. The 
immediate criteria on which the decision is based are 
relatively simple and clear-cut, and because all the 
circumstances are familiar, he scarcely has to think 
about it. He is not required to process very much 
information. In this sense, programmed decisions are 
low in psychic cost. 

Contrast this with the kind of decisions that same 
commuter thinks about on his way to the city. Should 
he take the new job Corporation X has just offered 
him? Should he buy a new house? Should he have an 
affair with his secretary? How can he get the Manage- 
ment Committee to accept his proposals about the new 
ad campaign? Such questions demand non-routine 
answers. They force him to make one-time or first- 
time decisions that will establish new habits and 
behavioral procedures. Many factors must be studied 
and weighed. A vast amount of information must be 
processed. These decisions are non-programmed. They 
are high in psychic cost. 

For each of us, life is a blend of the two. If this 
blend is too high in programmed decisions, we are not 
challenged; we find life boring and stultifying. We 
search for ways, even unconsciously, to introduce nov- 
elty into our lives, thereby altering the decision “mix.” 
But if this mix is too high in non-programmed deci- 
sions, if we are hit by so many novel situations that 
programming becomes impossible, life becomes pain- 
fully disorganized, exhausting and anxiety-filled. 
Pushed to its extreme, the end-point is psychosis. 

“Rational behavior . . . ,” writes organization theo- 
rist Bertram M. Gross, “always includes an intricate 
combination of routinization and creativity. Routine 
is essential . . . [because it] frees creative energies for 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 357 

dealing with the more baffling array of new problems 
for which routinization is an irrational approach.” 

When we are unable to program much of our lives, 
we suffer. “There is no more miserable person,” wrote 
William James, “than one . . . for whom the lighting of 
every cigar, the drinking of every cup . . . the begin- 
ning of every bit of work, are subjects of deliberation.” 
For unless we can extensively program our behavior, 
we waste tremendous amounts of information-process- 
ing capacity on trivia. 

This is why we form habits. Watch a committee 
break for lunch and then return to the same room: 
almost invariably its members seek out the same seats 
they occupied earlier. Some anthropologists drag in 
the theory of “territoriality” to explain this behavior 
—the notion that man is forever trying to carve out for 
himself a sacrosanct “turf.” A simpler explanation lies 
in the fact that programming conserves information- 
processing capacity. Choosing the same seat spares us 
the need to survey and evaluate other possibilities. 

In a familiar context, we are able to handle many 
of our life problems with low-cost programmed de- 
cisions. Change and novelty boost the psychic price 
of decision-making. When we move to a new neigh- 
borhood, for example, we are forced to alter old 
relationships and establish new routines or habits. This 
cannot be done without first discarding thousands of 
formerly programmed decisions and making a whole 
series of costly new first-time, non-programmed deci- 
sions. In effect, we are asked to re-program ourselves. 

Precisely the same is true of the unprepared visitor 
to an alien culture, and it is equally true of the man 
who, still in his own society, is rocketed into the fu- 
ture without advance warning. The arrival of the 
future in the form of novelty and change makes all 
his painfully pieced-together behavioral routines ob- 
solete. He suddenly discovers to his horror that these 
old routines, rather than solving his problems, merely 
intensify them. New and as yet unprogrammable deci- 
sions are demanded. In short, novelty disturbs the 

358 The Limits of Adaptability 

decision mix, tipping the balance toward the most 
difficult, most costly form of decision-making. 

It is true that some people can tolerate more nov- 
elty than others. The optimum mix is different for each 
of us. Yet the number and type of decisions demanded 
of us are not under our autonomous control. It is the 
society that basically determines the mix of decisions 
we must make and the pace at which we must make 
them. Today there is a hidden conflict in our lives 
between the pressures of acceleration and those of 
novelty. One forces us to make faster decisions while 
the other compels us to make the hardest, most time- 
consuming type of decisions. 

The anxiety generated by this head-on collision is 
sharply intensified by expanding diversity. Incontro- 
vertible evidence shows that increasing the number 
of choices open to an individual also increases the 
amount of information he needs to process if he is to 
deal with them. Laboratory tests on men and animals 
alike prove that the more the choices, the slower the 
reaction time. 

It is the frontal collision of these three incompatible 
demands that is now producing a decision-making 
crisis in the techno-societies. Taken together these 
pressures justify the term “decisional overstimulation,” 
and they help explain why masses of men in these 
societies already feel themselves harried, futile, in- 
capable of working out their private futures. The 
conviction that the rat-race is too tough, that things 
are out of control, is the inevitable consequence of 
these clashing forces. For the uncontrolled accelera- 
tion of scientific, technological and social change sub- 
verts the power of the individual to make sensible, 
competent decisions about his own destiny. 


When we combine the effects of decisional stress with 
sensory and cognitive overload, we produce several 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 359 

common forms of individual maladaptation. For ex- 
ample, one widespread response to high-speed change 
is outright denial. The Denier’s strategy is to “block 
out” unwelcome reality. When the demand for deci- 
sions reaches crescendo, he flatly refuses to take in 
new information. Like the disaster victim whose face 
registers total disbelief, The Denier, too, cannot ac- 
cept the evidence of his senses. Thus he concludes that 
things really are the same, and that all evidences of 
change are merely superficial. He finds comfort in such 
cliches as “young people were always rebellious” or 
“there’s nothing new on the face of the earth,” or “the 
more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

An unknowing victim of future shock, The Denier 
sets himself up for personal catastrophe. His strategy 
for coping increases the likelihood that when he finally 
is forced to adapt, his encounter with change will 
come in the form of a single massive life crisis, rather 
than a sequence of manageable problems. 

A second strategy of the future shock victim is 
specialism. The Specialist doesn’t block out all novel 
ideas or information. Instead, he energetically attempts 
to keep pace with change— but only in a specific nar- 
row sector of life. Thus we witness the spectacle of 
the physician or financier who makes use of all the 
latest innovations in his profession, but remains rigid- 
ly closed to any suggestion for social, political, or 
economic innovation. The more universities undergo 
paroxysms of protest, the more ghettos go up in 
flames, the less he wants to know about them, and 
the more closely he narrows the slit through which he 
sees the world. 

Superficially, he copes well. But he, too, is running 
the odds against himself. He may awake one morning 
to find his specialty obsolete or else transformed be- 
yond recognition by events exploding outside his 
field of vision. 

A third common response to future shock is obses- 
sive reversion to previously successful adaptive rou- 
tines that are now irrelevant and inappropriate. The 

360 The Limits of Adaptability 

Reversionist sticks to his previously programmed de- 
cisions and habits with dogmatic desperation. The 
more change threatens from without, the more metic- 
ulously he repeats past modes of action. His social 
outlook is regressive. Shocked by the arrival of the 
future, he offers hysterical support for the not-so-status 
quo, or he demands, in one masked form or another, a 
return to the glories of yesteryear. 

The Barry Goldwaters and George Wallaces of the 
world appeal to his quivering gut through the politics 
of nostalgia. Police maintained order in the past; 
hence, to maintain order, we need only supply more 
police. Authoritarian treatment of children worked in 
the past; hence, the troubles of the present spring from 
permissiveness. The middle-aged, right-wing rever- 
sionist yearns for the simple, ordered society of the 
small town— the slow-paced social environment in 
which his old routines were appropriate. Instead of 
adapting to the new, he continues automatically to 
apply the old solutions, growing more and more di- 
vorced from reality as he does so. 

If the older reversionist dreams of reinstating a 
small-town past, the youthful, left-wing reversionist 
dreams of reviving an even older social system. This 
accounts for some of the fascination with rural com- 
munes, the bucolic romanticism that fills the posters 
and poetry of the hippie and post-hippie subcultures, 
the deification of Che Guevara ( identified with 
mountains and jungles, not with urban or post-urban 
environments), the exaggerated veneration of pre- 
technological societies and the exaggerated contempt 
for science and technology. For all their fiery demands 
for change, at least some sectors of the left share with 
the Wallacites and Goldwaterites a secret passion for 
the past. 

Just as their Indian headbands, their Edwardian 
capes, their Deerslayer boots and gold-rimmed glasses 
mimic various eras of the past, so, too, their ideas. 
Turn-of-the-century terrorism and quaint Black Flag 
anarchy are suddenly back in vogue. The Rousseauian 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 361 

cult of the noble savage flourishes anew. Antique 
Marxist ideas, applicable at best to yesterday’s indus- 
trialism, are hauled out as knee-jerk answers for the 
problems of tomorrow’s super-industrialism. Rever- 
sionism masquerades as revolution. 

Finally, we have the Super-Simplifier. With old 
heroes and institutions toppling, with strikes, riots, and 
demonstrations stabbing at his consciousness, he seeks 
a single neat equation that will explain all the com- 
plex novelties threatening to engulf him. Grasping 
erratically at this idea or that, he becomes a tempo- 
rary true believer. 

This helps account for the rampant intellectual fad- 
dism that already threatens to outpace the rate of 
turnover in fashion. McLuhan? Prophet of the electric 
age? Levi-Strauss? Wow! Marcuse? Now I see it all! 
The Maharishi of Whatchmacallit? Fantastic! Astrol- 
ogy? Insight of the ages! 

The Super-Simplifier, groping desperately, invests 
every idea he comes across with universal relevance 
—often to the embarrassment of its author. Alas, no 
idea, not even mine or thine, is omni-insightful. But 
for the Super-Simplifier nothing less than total rele- 
vance suffices. Maximization of profits explains Amer- 
ica. The Communist conspiracy explains race riots. 
Participatory democracy is the answer. Permissiveness 
(or Dr. Spock) are the root of all evil. 

This search for a unitary solution at the intellectual 
level has its parallels in action. Thus the bewildered, 
anxious student, pressured by parents, uncertain of 
his draft status, nagged at by an educational system 
whose obsolescence is more strikingly revealed every 
day, forced to decide on a career, a set of values, and 
a worthwhile life style, searches wildly for a way to 
simplify his existence. By turning on to LSD, Methe- 
drine or heroin, he performs an illegal act that has, at 
least, the virtue of consolidating his miseries. He 
trades a host of painful and seemingly insoluble trou- 
bles for one big problem, thus radically, if temporar- 
ily, simplifying existence. 

362 The Limits of Adaptability 

The teen-age girl who cannot cope with the daily 
mounting tangle of stresses may choose another dra- 
matic act of super-simplification: pregnancy. Like 
drug abuse, pregnancy may vastly complicate her life 
later, but it immediately plunges all her other prob- 
lems into relative insignificance. 

Violence, too, offers a “simple” way out of bur- 
geoning complexity of choice and general overstimu- 
lation. For the older generation and the political 
establishment, police truncheons and military bayo- 
nets loom as attractive remedies, a way to end dissent 
once and for all. Black extremists and white vigilantes 
both employ violence to narrow their choices and 
clarify their lives. For those who lack an intelligent, 
comprehensive program, who cannot cope with the 
novelties and complexities of blinding change, terror- 
ism substitutes for thought. Terrorism may not topple 
regimes, but it removes doubts. 

Most of us can quickly spot these patterns of be- 
havior in others— even in ourselves— without, at the 
same time, understanding their causes. Yet informa- 
tion scientists will instantly recognize denial, speciali- 
zation, reversion and super-simplification as classical 
techniques for coping with overload. 

All of them dangerously evade the rich complexity 
of reality. They generate distorted images of reality. 
The more the individual denies, the more he special- 
izes at the expense of wider interests, the more me- 
chanically he reverts to past habits and policies, the 
more desperately he super-simplifies, the more inept 
his responses to the novelty and choices flooding into 
his life. The more he relies on these strategies, the 
more his behavior exhibits wild and erratic swings 
and general instability. 

Every information scientist recognizes that some 
of these strategies may, indeed, be necessary in over- 
load situations. Yet, unless the individual begins with 
a clear grasp of relevant reality, and unless he begins 
with cleanly defined values and priorities, his reliance 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 363 

on such techniques will only deepen his adaptive dif- 

These preconditions, however, are increasingly dif- 
ficult to meet. Thus the future shock victim who does 
employ these strategies experiences a deepening sense 
of confusion and uncertainty. Caught in the turbulent 
flow of change, called upon to make significant, rapid- 
fire life decisions, he feels not simply intellectual be- 
wilderment, but disorientation at the level of personal 
values. As the pace of change quickens, this confusion 
is tinged with self-doubt, anxiety and fear. He grows 
tense, tires easily. He may fall ill. As the pressures 
relentlessly mount, tension shades into irritability, 
anger, and sometimes, senseless violence. Little events 
trigger enormous responses; large events bring inade- 
quate responses. 

Pavlov many years ago referred to this phenomenon 
as the “paradoxical phase” in the breakdown of the 
dogs on whom he conducted his conditioning experi- 
ments. Subsequent research has shown that humans, 
too, pass through this stage under the impact of over- 
stimulation, and it may explain why riots sometimes 
occur even in the absence of serious provocation, why, 
as though for no reason, thousands of teenagers at a 
resort will suddenly go on the rampage, smashing 
windows, heaving rocks and bottles, wrecking cars. 
It may explain why pointless vandalism is a problem 
in all of the techno-societies, to the degree that an 
editorialist in the Japan Times reports in cracked, but 
passionate English: “We have never before seen any- 
thing like the extensive scope that these psychopathic 
acts are indulged in today.” 

And finally, the confusion and uncertainty wrought 
by transience, novelty and diversity may explain the 
profound apathy that de-socializes millions, old and 
young alike. This is not the studied, temporary with- 
drawal of the sensible person who needs to unwind 
or slow down before coping anew with his problems. 
It is total surrender before the strain of decision-mak- 
ing in conditions of uncertainty and overchoice. 

364 The Limits of Adaptability 

Affluence makes it possible, for the first time in his- 
tory, for large numbers of people to make their with- 
drawal a full-time proposition. The family man who 
retreats into his evening with the help of a few mar- 
tinis and allows televised fantasy to narcotize him, at 
least works during the day, performing a social func- 
tion upon which others are dependent. His is a part- 
time withdrawal. But for some (not all) hippie drop- 
outs, for many of the surfers and lotus-eaters, with- 
drawal is full-time and total. A check from an indul- 
gent parent may be the only remaining link with the 
larger society. 

On the beach at Matala, a tiny sun-drenched village 
in Crete, are forty or fifty caves occupied by runaway 
American troglodytes, young men and women who, 
for the most part, have given up any further effort to 
cope with the exploding high-speed complexities of 
life. Here decisions are few and time plentiful. Here 
the choices are narrowed. No problem of overstimula- 
tion. No need to comprehend or even to feel. A re- 
porter visiting them in 1968 brought them news of the 
assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Their response: 
silence. “No shock, no rage, no tears. Is this the new 
phenomenon? Running away from America and run- 
ning away from emotion? I understand uninvolve- 
ment, disenchantment, even noncommitment. But 
where has all the feeling gone?” 

The reporter might understand where all the feel- 
ing has gone if he understood the impact of over- 
stimulation, the apathy of the Chindit guerrilla, the 
blank face of the disaster victim, the intellectual and 
emotional withdrawal of the culture shock victim. 
For these young people, and millions of others— the 
confused, the violent, and the apathetic— already 
evince the symptoms of future shock. They are its 
earliest victims. 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 365 


It is impossible to produce future shock in large num- 
bers of individuals without affecting the rationality 
of the society as a whole. Today, according to Daniel 
P. Moynihan, the chief White House advisor on ur- 
ban affairs, the United States “exhibits the qualities 
of an individual going through a nervous breakdown.” 
For the cumulative impact of sensory, cognitive or de- 
cisional overstimulation, not to mention the physical 
effects of neural or endocrine overload, creates sick- 
ness in our midst. 

This sickness is increasingly mirrored in our culture, 
our philosophy, our attitude toward reality. It is no 
accident that so many ordinary people refer to the 
world as a “madhouse” or that the theme of insanity 
has recently become a staple in literature, art, drama 
and film. Peter Weiss in his play Marat /Sade por- 
trays a turbulent world as seen through the eyes of 
the inmates of the Charenton asylum. In movies like 
Morgan, life within a mental institution is depicted as 
superior to that in the outside world. In Blow-Up, the 
climax comes when the hero joins in a tennis game 
in which players hit a non-existent ball back and forth 
over the net. It is his symbolic acceptance of the un- 
real and irrational— recognition that he can no longer 
distinguish between illusion and reality. Millions of 
viewers identified with the hero in that moment. 

The assertion that the world has “gone crazy,” 
the graffiti slogan that “reality is a crutch,” the in- 
terest in hallucinogenic drugs, the enthusiasm for 
astrology and the occult, the search for truth in sen- 
sation, ecstasy and “peak experience,” the swing 
toward extreme subjectivism, the attacks on science, 
the snowballing belief that reason has failed man, 
reflect the everyday experience of masses of ordinary 
people who find they can no longer cope rationally 
with change. 

366 The Limits of Adaptability 

Millions sense the pathology that pervades the air, 
but fail to understand its roots. These roots he not 
in this or that political doctrine, still less in some 
mystical core of despair or isolation presumed to in- 
here in the “human condition.” Nor do they lie in 
science, technology, or legitimate demands for social 
change. They are traceable, instead, to the uncon- 
trolled, non-selective nature of our lunge into the 
future. They he in our failure to direct, consciously 
and imaginatively, the advance toward super-indus- 

Thus, despite its extraordinary achievements in art, 
science, intellectual, moral and political life, the 
United States is a nation in which tens of thousands 
of young people flee reality by opting for drug-in- 
duced lassitude; a nation in which millions of their 
parents retreat into video-induced stupor or alcoholic 
haze; a nation in which legions of elderly folk vegetate 
and die in loneliness; in which the flight from family 
and occupational responsibility has become an exodus; 
in which masses tame their raging anxieties with 
Miltown, or Librium, or Equanil, or a score of other 
tranquilizers and psychic pacifiers. Such a nation, 
whether it knows it or not, is suffering from future 

“I’m not going back to America,” says Ronald 
Bierl, a young expatriate in Turkey. “If you can es- 
tablish your own sanity, you don’t have to worry 
about other people’s sanity. And so many Americans 
are going stone insane.” Multitudes share this un- 
flattering view of American reality. Lest Europeans 
or Japanese or Russians rest smugly on their pre- 
sumed sanity, however, it is well to ask whether simi- 
lar symptoms are not already present in their midst as 
well. Are Americans unique in this respect, or are 
they simply suffering the initial brunt of an assault 
on the psyche that soon will stagger other nations 
as well? 

Social rationality presupposes individual rationality, 
and this, in turn, depends not only on certain biologi- 

Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 367 

cal equipment, but on continuity, order and reg- 
ularity in the environment. It is premised on some 
correlation between the pace and complexity of 
change and man’s decisional capacities. By blindly 
stepping up the rate of change, the level of novelty, 
and the extent of choice, we are thoughtlessly tam- 
pering with these environmental preconditions of ra- 
tionality. We are condemning countless millions to 
future shock. 

Part Six: 


Chapter 17 


In the blue vastness of the South Pacific just north of 
New Guinea lies the island of Manus, where, as 
every first-year anthropology student knows, a stone 
age population emerged into the twentieth century 
within a single generation. Margaret Mead, in New 
Lives for Old, tells the story of this seeming miracle 
of cultural adaptation and argues that it is far more 
difficult for a primitive people to accept a few frag- 
mentary crumbs of Western technological culture 
than it is for them to adopt a whole new way of life 
at once. 

“Each human culture, like each language, is a 
whole,” she writes, and if “individuals or groups of 
people have to change ... it is most important that 
they should change from one whole pattern to an- 

There is sense in this, for it is clear that tensions 
arise from incongruities between cultural elements. 
To introduce cities without sewage, anti-malarial 
medicines without birth control, is to tear a culture 
apart, and to subject its members to excruciating, 
often insoluble problems. 

Yet this is only part of the story, for there are defi- 
nite limits to the amount of newness that any individ- 
ual or group can absorb in a short span of time, re- 


372 Strategies for Survival 

gardless of how well integrated the whole may be. 
Nobody, Manus or Muscovite, can be pushed above 
his adaptive range without suffering disturbance and 
disorientation. Moreover, it is dangerous to generalize 
from the experience of this small South Sea popula- 

The success story of the Manus, told and retold 
like a modem folk tale, is often cited as evidence 
that we, in the high-technology countries, will also be 
able to leap to a new stage of development without 
undue hardship. Yet our situation, as we speed into 
the super-industrial era, is radically different from 
that of the islanders. 

We are not in a position, as they were, to import 
wholesale an integrated, well-formed culture, matured 
and tested in another part of the world. We must in- 
vent super-industrialism, not import it. During the 
next thirty or forty years we must anticipate not a 
single wave of change, but a series of terrible heaves 
and shudders. The parts of the new society, rather 
than being carefully fitted, one to the other, will be 
strikingly incongruous filled with missing linkages 
and glaring contradictions. There is no “whole pat- 
tern” for us to adopt. 

More important, the transience level has risen so 
high, the pace is now so forced, that a historically 
unprecedented situation has been thrust upon us. We 
are not asked, as the Manus were, to adapt to a new 
culture, but to a blinding succession of new tem- 
porary cultures. This is why we may be approaching 
the upper limits of the adaptive range. No previous 
generation has ever faced this test. 

It is only now, therefore, in our lifetime, and only 
in the techno-societies as yet, that the potential for 
mass future shock has crystallized. 

To say this, however, is to court grave misunder- 
standing. First, any author who calls attention to a 
social problem runs the risk of deepening the already 
profound pessimism that envelops the techno-socie- 
ties. Self-indulgent despair is a highly salable literary 

Coping with Tomorrow 373 

commodity today. Yet despair is not merely a refuge 
for irresponsibility; it is unjustified. Most of the prob- 
lems besieging us, including future shock, stem not 
from implacable natural forces but from man-made 
processes that are at least potentially subject to our 

Second, there is danger that those who treasure the 
status quo may seize upon the concept of future shock 
as an excuse to argue for a moratorium on change. 
Not only would any such attempt to suppress change 
fail, triggering even bigger, bloodier and more un- 
manageable changes than any we have seen, it would 
be moral lunacy as well. By any set of human stan- 
dards, certain radical social changes are already des- 
perately overdue. The answer to future shock is not 
non-change, but a different kind of change. 

The only way to maintain any semblance of equi- 
librium during the super-industrial revolution will be 
to meet invention with invention— to design new per- 
sonal and social change-regulators. Thus we need 
neither blind acceptance nor blind resistance, but an 
array of creative strategies for shaping, deflecting, 
accelerating or decelerating change selectively. The 
individual needs new principles for pacing and plan- 
ning his life along with a dramatically new kind of 
education. He may also need specific new technologi- 
cal aids to increase his adaptivity. The society, mean- 
while, needs new institutions and organizational 
forms, new buffers and balance wheels. 

All this implies still further change, to be sure— 
but of a type designed from the beginning to harness 
the accelerative thrust, to steer it and pace it. This 
will not be easy to do. Moving swiftly into uncharted 
social territory, we have no time-tried techniques, no 
blueprints. We must, therefore, experiment with a 
wide range of change-regulating measures, inventing 
and discarding them as we go along. It is in this ten- 
tative spirit that the following tactics and strategies 
are suggested— not as sure-fire panaceas, but as 
examples of new approaches that need to be tested 


Strategies for Survival 

and evaluated. Some are personal, others technologi- 
cal and social. For the struggle to channel change 
must take place at all these levels simultaneously. 

Given a clearer grasp of the problems and more 
intelligent control of certain key processes, we can 
turn crisis into opportunity, helping people not merely 
to survive, but to crest the waves of change, to grow, 
and to gain a new sense of mastery over their own 


We can begin our battle to prevent future shock at 
the most personal level. It is clear, whether we know 
it or not, that much of our daily behavior is, in fact, 
an attempt to ward off future shock. We employ a 
variety of tactics to lower the levels of stimulation 
when they threaten to drive us above our adaptive 
range. For the most part, however, these techniques 
are employed unconsciously. We can increase their 
effectiveness by raising them to consciousness. 

We can, for example, introvert periodically to ex- 
amine our own bodily and psychological reactions 
to change, briefly tuning out the external environ- 
ment to evaluate our inner environment. This is not 
a matter of wallowing in subjectivity, but of coolly ap- 
praising our own performance. In the words of Hans 
Selye, whose work on stress opened new frontiers in 
biology and psychiatry, the individual can “con- 
sciously look for signs of being keyed up too much.” 

Heart palpitations, tremors, insomnia or unex- 
plained fatigue may well signal overstimulation, just 
as confusion, unusual irritability, profound lassitude 
and a panicky sense that things are slipping out of 
control are psychological indications. By observing 
ourselves, looking back over the changes in our re- 
cent past, we can determine whether we are operat- 
ing comfortably within our adaptive range or press- 

Coping with Tomorrow 375 

ing its outer limits. We can, in short, consciously 
assess our own life pace. 

Having done this, we can also begin consciously 
to influence it— speeding it up or slowing it down- 
first with respect to small things, the micro-environ- 
ment, and then in terms of the larger, structural 
patterns of experience. We can learn how by scruti- 
nizing our own unpremeditated responses to over- 

We employ a de-stimulating tactic, for example, 
when we storm into the teen-ager’s bedroom and turn 
off a stereo unit that has been battering our ear- 
drums with unwanted and interruptive sounds. We 
virtually sigh with relief when the noise level drops. 
We act to reduce sensory bombardment in other 
ways, too— when we pull down the blinds to darken 
a room, or search for silence on a deserted strip of 
beach. We may flip on an air conditioner not so 
much to lower the temperature as to mask novel and 
unpredictable street sounds with a steady, predict- 
able drone. 

We close doors, wear sunglasses, avoid smelly 
places and shy away from touching strange surfaces 
when we want to decrease novel sensory input. Sim- 
ilarly, when we choose a familiar route home from 
the office, instead of turning a fresh comer, we opt 
for sensory non-novelty. In short, we employ “sen- 
sory shielding”— a thousand subtle behavioral tricks 
to “turn off” sensory stimuli when they approach our 
upper adaptive limit. 

We use similar tactics to control the level of cog- 
nitive stimulation. Even the best of students periodi- 
cally gazes out the window, blocking out the teacher, 
shutting off the flow of new data from that source. 
Even voracious readers sometimes go through periods 
when they cannot bear to pick up a book or magazine. 

Why, during a gregarious evening at a friend’s 
house, does one person in the group refuse to learn 
a new card game while others urge her on? Many 
factors play a part: the self-esteem of the individual, 

376 Strategies for Survival 

the fear of seeming foolish, and so on. But one over- 
looked factor affecting willingness to learn may well 
be the general level of cognitive stimulation in the 
individual’s life at the time. “Don’t bother me with 
new facts!” is a phrase usually uttered in jest. But 
the joke often disguises a real wish to avoid being 
pressed too hard by new data. 

This accounts in part for our specific choices of 
entertainment— of leisure-time reading, movies or tele- 
vision programs. Sometimes we seek a high novelty 
ratio, a rich flow of information. At other moments 
we actively resist cognitive stimulation and reach for 
“light” entertainment. The typical detective yam, for 
example, provides a trace of unpredictability— who- 
dunnit?— ^ within a carefully structured ritual frame- 
work, a set of non-novel, hence easily predictable 
relationships. In this way, we employ entertainment 
as a device to raise or lower stimulation, adjusting 
our intake rates so as not to overload our capacities. 

By making more conscious use of such tactics, we 
can “fine-tune” our micro-environment. We can also 
cut down on unwanted stimulation by acting to 
lighten our cognitive burdens. “Trying to remember 
too many things is certainly one of the major sources 
of psychologic stress,” writes Selye. “I make a con- 
scious effort to forget immediately all that is unim- 
portant and to jot down data of possible value . . . 
This technique can help anyone to accomplish the 
greatest simplicity compatible with the degree of 
complexity of his intellectual life.” 

We also act to regulate the flow of decisioning. We 
postpone decisions or delegate them to others when 
we are suffering from decision overload. Sometimes 
we “freeze up” decisionally. I have seen a woman 
sociologist, just returned from a crowded, highly 
stimulating professional conference, sit down in a 
restaurant and absolutely refuse to make any deci- 
sions whatever about her meal. “What would you like?” 
her husband asked. “You decide for me,” she replied. 
When pressed to choose between specific alternatives, 


Coping with Tomorrow 

she still explicitly refused, insisting angrily that she 
lacked the “energy” to make the decision. 

Through such methods we attempt, as best we can, 
to regulate the flow of sensory, cognitive and deci- 
sional stimulation, perhaps also attempting in some 
complicated and as yet unknown way to balance them 
with one another. But we have stronger ways of cop- 
ing with the threat of overstimulation. These involve 
attempts to control the rates of transience, novelty and 
diversity in our milieu. 


The rate of turnover in our lives, for example, can be 
influenced by conscious decisions. We can, for ex- 
ample, cut down on change and stimulation by con- 
sciously maintaining longer-term relationships with 
the various elements of our physical environment. 
Thus, we can refuse to purchase throw-away prod- 
ucts. We can hang onto the old jacket for another 
season; we can stoutly refuse to follow the latest 
fashion trend; we can resist when the salesman tells 
us it’s time to trade in our automobile. In this way, 
we reduce the need to make and break ties with the 
physical objects around us. 

We can use the same tactic with respect to people 
and the other dimensions of experience. There are 
times when even the most gregarious person feels 
anti-social and refuses invitations to parties or other 
events that call for social interaction. We consciously 
disconnect. In the same way, we can minimize travel. 
We can resist pointless reorganizations in our com- 
pany, church, fraternal or community groups. In 
making important decisions, we can consciously 
weigh the hidden costs of change against the bene- 

None of this is to suggest that change can or should 
be stopped. Nothing is less sensible than the advice 
of the Duke of Cambridge who is said to have ha- 


Strategies for Survival 

rumphed: “Any change, at any time, for any reason 
is to be deplored.” The theory of the adaptive range 
suggests that, despite its physical costs, some level of 
change is as vital to health as too much change is 

Some people, for reasons still not clear, are pitched 
at a much higher level of stimulus hunger than others. 
They seem to crave change even when others are reel- 
ing from it. A new house, a new car, another trip, 
another crisis on the job, more house guests, visits, 
financial adventures and misadventures— they seem 
to accept all these and more without apparent ill 

Yet close analysis of such people often reveals the 
existence of what might be called stability zones in 
their lives-certain enduring relationships that are 
carefully maintained despite all kinds of other 


One man I know has run through a series of love 
affairs, a divorce and remarriage— all within a very 
short span of time. He thrives on change, enjoys 
travel, new foods, new ideas, new movies, plays and 
books. He has a high intellect and a low “boring 
point,” is impatient with tradition and restlessly eager 
for novelty. Ostensibly, he is a walking exemplar of 

When we look more closely, however, we find that 
he has stayed on the same job for ten years. He drives 
a battered, seven-year-old automobile. His clothes 
are several years out of style. His closest friends are 
long-time professional associates and even a few old 
college buddies. 

Another case involves a man who has changed jobs 
at a mind-staggering rate, has moved his family thir- 
teen times in eighteen years, travels extensively, rents 
cars, uses throw-away products, prides himself on 
leading the neighborhood in trying out new gadgets, 
and generally lives in a restless whirl of transience, 
newness and diversity. Once more, however, a second 
look reveals significant stability zones in his life: a 

Coping with Tomorrow 379 

good, tightly woven relationship with his wife of 
nineteen years; continuing ties with his parents; old 
college friends interspersed with the new acquaint- 

A different form of stability zone is the habit pat- 
tern that goes with the person wherever he travels, no 
matter what other changes alter his life. A professor 
who has moved seven times in ten years, who travels 
constantly in the United States, South America, 
Europe and Africa, who has changed jobs repeatedly, 
pursues the same daily regimen wherever he is. He 
reads between eight and nine in the morning, takes 
forty-five minutes for exercise at lunch time, and then 
catches a half-hour cat-nap before plunging into 
work that keeps him busy until 10:00 p.m. 

The problem is not, therefore, to suppress change, 
which cannot be done, but to manage it. If we opt 
for rapid change in certain sectors of life, we can 
consciously attempt to build stability zones elsewhere. 
A divorce, perhaps, should not be too closely followed 
by a job transfer. Since the birth of a child alters all 
the human ties within a family, it ought not, perhaps, 
be followed too closely by a relocation which causes 
tremendous turnover in human ties outside the family. 
The recent widow should not, perhaps, rush to sell 
her house. 

To design workable stability zones, however, to 
alter the larger patterns of life, we need far more po- 
tent tools. We need, first of all, a radically new orien- 
tation toward the future. 

Ultimately, to manage change we must anticipate 
it. However, the notion that one’s personal future 
can be, to some extent, anticipated, flies in the face 
of persistent folk prejudice. Most people, deep down, 
believe that the future is a blank. Yet the truth is that 
we can assign probabilities to some of the changes 
that lie in store for us, especially certain large struc- 
tural changes, and there are ways to use this knowl- 
edge in designing personal stability zones. 

We can, for example, predict with certainty that 

380 Strategies for Survival 

unless death intervenes, we shall grow older; that our 
children, our relatives and friends will also grow 
older; and that after a certain point our health will 
begin to deteriorate. Obvious as this may seem, we 
can, as a result of this simple statement, infer a great 
deal about our lives one, five or ten years hence, and 
about the amount of change we will have to absorb in 
the interim. 

Few individuals or families plan ahead systemat- 
ically. When they do, it is usually in terms of a bud- 
get. Yet we can forecast and influence our expendi- 
ture of time and emotion as well as money. Thus it 
is possible to gain revealing glimpses of one’s own 
future, and to estimate the gross level of change lying 
ahead, by periodically preparing what might be 
called a Time and Emotion Forecast. This is an at- 
tempt to assess the percentage of time and emotional 
energy invested in various important aspects of life 
—and to see how this might change over the years. 

One can, for example, list in a column those sectors 
of life that seem most important to us: Health, Oc- 
cupation, Leisure, Marital Relations, Parental Rela- 
tions, Filial Relations, etc. It is then possible to jot 
down next to each item a “guesstimate” of the amount 
of time we presently allocate to that sector. By way 
of illustration: given a nine-to-five job, a half-hour 
commute, and the usual vacations and holidays, a 
man employing this method would find that he de- 
votes approximately 25 percent of his time to work. 
Although it is, of course, much more difficult, he can 
also make a subjective assessment of the percentage 
of his emotional energy invested in the job. If he is 
bored and secure, he may invest very little— there 
being no necessary correlation between time devoted 
and emotion invested. 

If he performs this exercise for each of the impor- 
tant sectors of his life, forcing himself to write in a 
percentage even when it is no more than an extremely 
crude estimate, and toting up the figures to make sure 
they never exceed 100 percent, he will be rewarded 

Coping with Tomorrow 381 

with some surprising insights. For the way he dis- 
tributes his time and emotional energies is a direct 
clue to his value system and his personality. 

The payoff for engaging in this process really be- 
gins, however, when he projects forward, asking him- 
self honestly and in detail how his job, or his 
marriage, or his relationship with his children or his 
parents is likely to develop within the years ahead. 

If, for example, he is a forty-year-old middle man- 
ager with two teen-age sons, two surviving parents or 
in-laws, and an incipient duodenal ulcer, he can as- 
sume that within half a decade his boys will be off to 
college or living away on their own. Time devoted 
to parental concerns will probably decline. Similarly, 
he can anticipate some decline in the emotional ener- 
gies demanded by his parental role. On the other 
hand, as his own parents and in-laws grow older, his 
filial responsibility will probably loom larger. If they 
are sick, he may have to devote large amounts of 
time and emotion to their care. If they are statisti- 
cally likely to die within the period under study, he 
needs to face this fact. It tells him that he can expect 
a major change in his commitments. His own health, 
in the meantime, will not be getting any better. In 
the same way, he can hazard some guesses about his 
job— his chances for promotion, the possibility of re- 
organization, relocation, retraining, etc. 

All this is difficult, and it does not yield “knowl- 
edge of the future.” Rather, it helps him make explicit 
some of his assumptions about the future. As he 
moves forward, filling in the forecast for the present 
year, the next year, the fifth or tenth year, patterns 
of change will begin to emerge. He will see that in 
certain years there are bigger shifts and redistribu- 
tions to be expected than in others. Some years are 
choppier, more change-filled than others. And he can 
then, on the strength of these systematic assump- 
tions, decide how to handle major decisions in the 

Should the family move next year— or will there be 

382 Strategies for Survival 

enough turmoil and change without that? Should he 
quit his job? Buy a new car? Take a costly vacation? 
Put his elderly father-in-law in a nursing home? Have 
im affair? Can he afford to rock his marriage or 
change his profession? Should he attempt to main- 
tain certain levels of commitment unchanged? 

These techniques are extremely crude tools for per- 
sonal planning. Perhaps the psychologists and social 
psychologists can design sharper instruments, more 
sensitive to differences in probability, more refined 
and insight-yielding. Yet, if we search for clues rath- 
er than certainties, even these primitive devices can 
help us moderate or channel the flow of change in 
our lives. For, by helping us identify the zones of 
rapid change, they also help us identify— or invent— 
stability zones, patterns of relative constancy in the 
overwhelming flux. They improve the odds in the per- 
sonal struggle to manage change. 

Nor is this a purely negative process— a struggle to 
suppress or limit change. The issue for any individ- 
ual attempting to cope with rapid change is how to 
maintain himself within the adaptive range, and, be- 
yond that, how to find the exquisite optimum point 
at which he fives at peak effectiveness. Dr. John L. 
Fuller, a senior scientist at the Jackson Laboratory, a 
bio-medical research center in Bar Harbor, Maine, 
has conducted experiments in the impact of experi- 
ential deprivation and overload. “Some people,” he 
says, “achieve a certain sense of serenity, even in the 
midst of turmoil, not because they are immune to 
emotion, but because they have found ways to get 
just the ‘right 7 amount of change in their lives.” The 
search for that optimum may be what much of the 
“pursuit of happiness” is about. 

Trapped, temporarily, with the limited nervous and 
endocrine systems given us by evolution, we must 
work out new tactics to help us regulate the stimula- 
tion to which we subject ourselves. 

Coping with Tomorrow 



The trouble is that such personal tactics become less 
effective with every passing day. As the rate of change 
climbs, it becomes harder for individuals to create 
the personal stability zones they need. The costs of 
non-change escalate. 

We may stay in the old house— only to see the neigh- 
borhood transformed. We may keep the old car- 
only to see repair bills mount beyond reach. We 
may refuse to transfer to a new location— only to lose 
our job as a result. For while there are steps we can 
take to reduce the impact of change in our personal 
lives, the real problem lies outside ourselves. 

To create an environment in which change enlivens 
and enriches the individual, but does not overwhelm 
him, we must employ not merely personal tactics but 
social strategies. If we are to carry people through 
the accelerative period, we must begin now to build 
“future shock absorbers” into the very fabric of super- 
industrial society. And this requires a fresh way of 
thinking about change and non-change in our lives. 
It even requires a different way of classifying people. 

Today we tend to categorize individuals not ac- 
cording to the changes they happen to be undergoing 
at the moment, but according to their status or posi- 
tion between changes. We consider a union man as 
someone who has joined a union and not yet quit. 
Our designation refers not to joining or quitting, but 
to the “non-change” that happens in between. Welfare 
recipient, college student, Methodist, executive— all 
refer to the person’s condition between changes, as it 

There is, however, a radically different way to view 
people. For example, "one who is moving to a new 
residence” is a classification into which more than 
100,000 Americans fit on any given day, yet they are 
seldom thought of as a group. The classification “one 

384 Strategies for Survival 

who is changing his job” or “one '"h<~> is joining a 
church,” or “one who is gettir,, a divorce” are all 
based on temporary, transitional conditions, rather 
than on the more enduring conditions between tran- 

This sudden shift of focus, from thinking about 
what people “are” to thinking about what they are 
“becoming,” suggests a whole array of new approach- 
es to adaptation. 

One of the most imaginative and simplest of these 
comes from Dr. Herbert Gerjuoy, a psychologist on 
the staff of the Human Resources Research Organiza- 
tion. He terms it “situational grouping,” and like most 
good ideas, it sounds obvious once it is described. Yet 
it has never been systematically exploited. Situational 
grouping may well become one of the key social 
services of the future. 

Dr. Gerjuoy argues that we should provide tem- 
porary organizations— “situational groups' — for people 
who happen to be passing through similar life transi- 
tions at the same time. Such situational groups should 
be established, Gerjuoy contends, “for families caught 
in the upheaval of relocation, for men and women 
about to be divorced, for people about to lose a parent 
or a spouse, for those about to gain a child, for men 
preparing to switch to a new occupation, for families 
that have just moved into a community, for those 
about to marry off their last child, for those facing 
imminent retirement— for anyone, in other words, who 
faces an important life change. 

“Membership in the group would, of course, be 
temporary— just long enough to help the person with 
the transitional difficulties. Some groups might meet 
for a few months, others might not do more than hold 
a single meeting.” 

By bringing together people who are sharing, or 
are about to share, a common adaptive experience, 
he argues, we help equip them to cope with it. “A 
man required to adapt to a new life situation loses 
some of his bases for self-esteem. He begins to doubt 

Coping with Tomorrow 385 

his own abilities. If we bring him together with others 
who are moving through the same experience, people 
he can identify with and respect, we strengthen him. 
The members of the group come to share, even if 
briefly, some sense of identity. They see their prob- 
lems more objectively. They trade useful ideas and 
insights. Most important, they suggest future alterna- 
tives for one another.” 

This emphasis on the future, says Gerjuoy, is criti- 
cal. Unlike some group therapy sessions, the meetings 
of situational groups should not be devoted to hash- 
ing over the past, or to griping about it, or to soul- 
searching self-revelation, but to discussing personal 
objectives, and to planning practical strategies for 
future use in the new life situation. Members might 
watch movies of other similar groups wrestling with 
the same kinds of problems. They might hear from 
others who are more advanced in the transition than 
they are. In short, they are given the opportunity to 
pool their personal experiences and ideas before the 
moment of change is upon them. 

In essence, there is nothing novel about this ap- 
proach. Even now certain organizations are based on 
situational principles. A group of Peace Corps volun- 
teers preparing for an overseas mission is, in effect, 
just such a situational grouping, as are pre- and post- 
natal classes. Many American towns have a “New- 
comer’s Club” that invites new residents to casserole 
dinners or other socials, permitting them to mix with 
other recent arrivals and compare problems and plans. 
Perhaps there ought to be an “Outmovers Club” as 
well. What is new is the suggestion that we syste- 
matically honeycomb the society with such “coping 


Not all help for the individual can, or necessarily 
should come from groups. In many cases, what the 

386 Strategies for Survival 

change-pressed person needs most is one-to-one coun- 
seling during the crisis of adaptation. In psychiatric 
jargon a “crisis” is any significant transition. It is 
roughly synonymous with “major life change.” 

Today persons in transitional crisis turn to a variety 
of experts— doctors, marriage counselors, psychiatrists, 
vocational specialists and others— for individualized 
advice. Yet for many kinds of crisis there are no ap- 
propriate experts. Who helps the family or individual 
faced with the need to move to a new city for the 
third time in five years? Who is available to counsel 
a leader who is up- or down-graded by a reorganiza- 
tion of his or her club or community organization? 
Who is there to help the secretary just bounced back 
to the typing pool? 

People like these are not sick. They neither need 
nor should receive psychiatric attention, yet there is, 
by and large, no counseling machinery available to 

Not only are there many kinds of present-day life 
transitions for which no counseling help is provided, 
but the invasion of novelty will slam individuals up 
against wholly new kinds of personal crises in the 
future. And as the society races toward heterogeneity, 
the variety of problems will increase. In slowly chang- 
ing societies the types of crises faced by individuals 
are more uniform and the sources of specialized ad- 
vice more easily identifiable. The crisis-caught per- 
son went to his priest, his witch doctor or his local 
chief. Today personalized counseling services in the 
high technology countries have become so specialized 
that we have developed, in effect, second-layer ad- 
vice-givers who do nothing but counsel the individual 
about where to seek advice. 

These referral services interpose additional red tape 
and delay between the individual and the assistance 
he needs. By the time help reaches him, he may al- 
ready have made the crucial decision— and done so 
badly. So long as we assume that advice is something 
that must come from evermore specialized profes- 

Coping with Tomorrow 387 

sionals, we can anticipate ever greater difficulty. 
Moreover, so long as we base specialties on what 
people “are” instead of what they are “becoming” 
we miss many of the real adaptive problems alto- 
gether. Conventional social service systems will never 
be able to keep up. 

The answer is a counterpart to the situational 
grouping system— a counseling set-up that not only 
draws on full-time professional advice givers, but on 
multitudes of lay experts as well. We must recognize 
that what makes a person an expert in one type of 
crisis is not necessarily formal education, but the 
very experience of having undergone a similar crisis 

To help tide millions of people over the difficult 
transitions they are likely to face, we shall be forced 
to “deputize” large numbers of non-professional peo- 
ple in the community— businessmen, students, teach- 
ers, workers, and others— to serve as “crisis counsel- 
ors.” Tomorrow’s crisis counselors will be experts not 
in such conventional disciplines as psychology or 
health, but in specific transitions such as relocation, 
job promotion, divorce, or subcult-hopping. Armed 
with their own recent experience, working on a vol- 
unteer basis or for minimal pay, they will set aside 
some small part of their time for listening to other 
lay people talk out their problems, apprehensions and 
plans. In return, they will have access to others for 
similar assistance in the course of their own adaptive 

Once again, there is nothing new about people 
seeking advice from one another. What is new is our 
ability, through the use of computerized systems, to 
assemble situational groups swiftly, to match up in- 
dividuals with counselors, and to do both with con- 
siderable respect for privacy and anonymity. 

We can already see evidence of a move in this 
direction in the spread of “listening” and “caring” 
services. In Davenport, Iowa, lonely people can dial 
a telephone number and be connected with a “listen- 

3SS Strategies for Survival 

ex ’— one of a rotating staff of volunteers who man the 
telephone twenty-four hours a day. The program, 
initiated by a local commission on the aging, is sim- 
ilar to, but not the same as, the Care-Ring service in 
New York. Care-Ring charges its subscribers a fee, in 
return for which they receive two check-in calls each 
day at designated times. Subscribers provide the serv- 
ice with the names of their doctor, a neighbor, their 
building superintendent, and a close relative. In the 
event they fail to respond to a call, the service tries 
again half an horn* later. If they still do not respond, 
the doctor is notified and a nurse dispatched to the 
scene. Care-Ring services are now being franchised 
in other cities. In both these services we see forerun- 
ners of the crisis-counseling system of the future. 

Under that system, the giving and getting of ad- 
vice becomes not a “social service” in the usual bu- 
reaucratic, impersonal sense, but a highly personal- 
ized process that not only helps individuals crest the 
currents of change in their own lives, but helps ce- 
ment the entire society together in a kind of “love 
network”— an integrative system based on the prin- 
ciple of “I need you as much as you need me.” Sit- 
uational grouping and person-to-person crisis 
counseling are likely to become a significant part of 
everyone’s life as we all move together into the un- 
certainties of the future. 


A “future shock absorber” of a quite different type is 
the “half-way house” idea already employed by pro- 
gressive prison authorities to ease the convict’s way 
back into normal life. According to criminologist 
Daniel Glaser, the distinctive feature of the correc- 
tional institutions of the future will be the idea of 
“gradual release.” 

Instead of taking a man out of the under-stimulat- 
ing, tightly regimented life of the prison and plung- 

Coping with Tomorrow 389 

ing him violently and without preparation into open 
society, he is moved first to an intermediate institu- 
tion which permits him to work in the community by 
day, while continuing to return to the institution at 
night. Gradually, restrictions are lifted until he is 
fully adjusted to the outside world. The same prin- 
ciple has been explored by various mental institutions. 

Similarly it has been suggested that the problems 
of rural populations suddenly shifted to urban cen- 
ters might be sharply reduced if something like this 
half-way house principle were employed to ease 
their entry into the new way of life. What cities need, 
according to this theory, are reception facilities where 
newcomers live for a time under conditions half- 
way between those of the rural society they are leav- 
ing behind and the urban society they are seeking to 
penetrate. If instead of treating city-bound migrants 
with contempt and leaving them to find their own 
way, they were first acclimatized, they would adapt 
far more successfully. 

A similar idea is filtering through the specialists 
who concern themselves with “squatter housing” in 
major cities in the technologically underdeveloped 
world. Outside Khartoum in the Sudan, thousands of 
former nomads have created a concentric ring of 
settlements. Those furthest from the city live in tents, 
much like the ones they occupied before migration. 
The next-closer group lives in mud-walled huts with 
tent roofs. Those still closer to the city occupy huts 
with mud walls and tin roofs. 

When police set out to tear down the tents, urban 
planner Constantinos Doxiadis recommended that 
they not only not destroy them, but that certain mu- 
nicipal services be provided to their inhabitants. 
Instead of seeing these concentric rings in wholly 
negative terms, he suggested, they might be viewed 
as a tremendous teaching machine through which 
individuals and families move, becoming urbanized 
step by step. 

The application of this principle, however, need not 

390 Strategies for Survival 

be limited to the poor, the insane or the criminal. 
The basic idea of providing change in controlled, 
graduated stages, rather than abrupt transitions, is 
crucial to any society that wishes to cope with rapid 
social or technological upheaval. The veteran, for 
example, could be released from service more grad- 
ually. The student from a rural community could 
spend a few weeks at a college in a medium-size 
city before entering the large urban university. The 
long-term hospital patient might be encouraged to go 
home on a trial basis, once or twice, before being dis- 

We are already experimenting with these strate- 
gies, but others are possible. Retirement, for example, 
should not be the abrupt, all-or-nothing, ego-crush- 
ing change that it now is for most men. There is no 
reason why it cannot be gradualized. Military induc- 
tion, which typically separates a young man from 
his family in a sudden and almost violent fashion, 
could be done by stages. Legal separation, which is 
supposed to serve as a kind of half-way house on the 
way to divorce, could be made less legally compli- 
cated and psychologically costly. Trial marriage could 
be encouraged, instead of denigrated. In short, 
wherever a change of status is contemplated, the pos- 
sibility of gradualizing it should be considered. 


No society racing through the turbulence of the next 
several decades will be able to do without specialized 
centers in which the rate of change is artificially de- 
pressed. To phrase it differently, we shall need en- 
claves of the past— communities in which turnover, 
novelty and choice are deliberately limited. 

These may be communities in which history is 
partially frozen, like the Amish villages of Pennsyl- 
vania, or places in which the past is artfully simulated, 
like Williamsburg, Virginia or Mystic, Connecticut. 

Coping with Tomorrow 391 

Unlike Williamsburg or Mystic, however, through 
which visitors stream at a steady and rapid clip, 
tomorrow’s enclaves of the past must be places where 
people faced with future shock can escape the pres- 
sures of overstimulation for weeks, months, even 
years, if they choose. 

In such slow-paced communities, individuals who 
need or want a more relaxed, less stimulating exist- 
ence should be able to find it. The communities must 
be consciously encapsulated, selectively cut off from 
the surrounding society. Vehicular access should be 
limited to avoid traffic. Newspapers should be week- 
lies instead of dailies. If permitted at all, radio and 
television should be broadcast only for a few hours 
a day, instead of round the clock. Only special emer- 
gency services— health, for example— should be main- 
tained at the maximum efficiency permitted by 
advanced technology. 

Such communities not only should not be derided, 
they should be subsidized by the larger society as a 
form of mental and social insurance. In times of ex- 
tremely rapid change, it is possible for the larger 
society to make some irreversible, catastrophic error. 
Imagine, for instance, the widespread diffusion of a 
food additive that accidentally turns out to have 
thalidomide-like effects. One can conceive of acci- 
dents capable of sterilizing or even killing whole pop- 

By proliferating enclaves of the past, living mu- 
seums as it were, we increase the chances that some- 
one will be there to pick up the pieces in case of 
massive calamity. Such communities might also serve 
as experiential teaching machines. Thus children from 
the outside world might spend a few months in a 
simulated feudal village, living and actually working 
as children did centuries ago. Teenagers might be 
required to spend some time living in a typical early 
industrial community and to actually work in its mill 
or factory. Such living education would give them a 
historical perspective no book could ever provide. 


Strategies for Survival 

In these communities, the men and women who want 
a slower life might actually make a career out of 
“being” Shakespeare or Ben Franklin or Napoleon— 
not merely acting out their parts on stage, but living, 
eating, sleeping, as they did. The career of “historical 
simulant” would attract a great many naturally 
talented actors. 

In short, every society will need sub-societies 
whose members are committed to staying away from 
the latest fads. We may even want to pay people 
not to use the latest goods, not to enjoy the most 
automated and sophisticated conveniences. 


By the same token, just as we make it possible for 
some people to live at the slower pace of the past, 
we must also make it possible for individuals to ex- 
perience aspects of their future in advance. Thus, we 
shall also have to create enclaves of the future. 

In a limited sense, we are already doing this. As- 
tronauts, pilots and other specialists are often trained 
by placing them in carefully assembled simulations 
of the environments they will occupy at some date 
in the future when they actually participate in a mis- 
sion. By duplicating the interior of a cockpit or a cap- 
sule, we allow them to become accustomed, by 
degrees, to their future environment. Police and 
espionage agents, as well as commandos and other 
military specialists, are pre-trained by watching mov- 
ies of the people they will have to deal with, the 
factories they are supposed to infiltrate, the terrain 
they will have to cover. In this way they are prepared 
to cope with a variety of future contingencies. 

There is no reason why the same principle cannot 
be extended. Before dispatching a worker to a new 
location, he and his family ought to be shown de- 
tailed movies of the neighborhood they will live in, 
the school their children will attend, the stores in 


Coping with Tomorrow 

which they will shop, perhaps even of the teachers, 
shopkeepers, and neighbors they will meet. By pre- 
adapting them in this way, we can lower their 
anxieties about the unknown and prepare them, in 
advance, to cope with many of the problems they are 
likely to encounter. 

Tomorrow, as the technology of experiential simu- 
lation advances, we shall be able to go much furth- 
er. The pre-adapting individual will be able not 
merely to see and hear, but to touch, taste and smell 
the environment he is about to enter. He will be able 
to interact vicariously with the people in his future, 
and to undergo carefully contrived experiences de- 
signed to improve his coping abilities. 

The “psych-corps” of the future will find a fertile 
market in the design and operation of such pre- 
adaptive facilities. Whole families may go to “work- 
leam-and-play” enclaves which will, in effect, con- 
stitute museums of the future, preparing them to 
cope with their own personal tomorrows. 


“Mesmerized as we are by the very idea of change,” 
writes John Gardner in Self -Renewal, “we must guard 
against the notion that continuity is a negligible— if 
not reprehensible— factor in human history. It is a 
vitally important ingredient in the life of individuals, 
organizations and societies.” 

In the light of theory of the adaptive range, it be- 
comes clear that an insistence on continuity in our 
experience is not necessarily “reactionary,” just as 
the demand for abrupt or discontinuous change is not 
necessarily “progressive.” In stagnant societies, there 
is a deep psychological need for novelty and stimula- 
tion. In an accelerative society, the need may well 
be for the preservation of certain continuities. 

In the past, ritual provided an important change- 
buffer. Anthropologists tell us that certain repeated 

394 Strategies for Survival 

ceremonial forms— rituals surrounding birth, death, 
puberty, marriage and so on— helped individuals in 
primitive societies to re-establish equilibrium after 
some major adaptive event had taken place. 

“There is no evidence,” writes S. T. Kimball, “that 
a secularized urban world has lessened the need for 
ritualized expression . . .” Carleton Coon declares that 
“Whole societies, whatever their sizes and degrees of 
complexity, need controls to ensure the maintenance 
of equilibrium, and control comes in several forms. 
One is ritual.” He points out that ritual survives to- 
day in the public appearances of heads of state, in 
religion, in business. 

These, however, represent the merest tip of the 
ritual iceberg. In Western societies, for example, the 
sending of Christmas cards is an annual ritual that 
not only represents continuity in its own right, but 
which helps individuals prolong their all-too-tem- 
porary friendships or acquaintanceships. The cele- 
bration of birthdays, holidays or anniversaries are ad- 
ditional examples. The fast-burgeoning greeting-card 
industry— 2,248,000,000 Christmas cards are sold an- 
nually in the United States alone— is an economic 
monument to the society’s continuing need for some 
semblance of ritual. 

Repetitive behavior, whatever else its functions, 
helps give meaning to non-repetitive events, by pro- 
viding the backdrop against which novelty is silhou- 
etted. Sociologists James Bossard and Eleanor Boll, 
after examining one hundred published autobiog- 
raphies, found seventy-three in which the writers 
described procedures which were “unequivocally 
classifiable as family rituals.” These rituals, arising 
from “some simple or random bits of family inter- 
action, started to set, because they were successful 
or satisfying to members, and through repetition they 
‘jelled’ into very definite forms.” 

As the pace of change accelerates, many of these 
rituals are broken down or denatured. Yet we struggle 
to maintain them. One non-religious family periodi- 


Coping with Tomorrow 

cally offers a secular grace at the dinner table, to honor 
such benefactors of mankind as Johann Sebastian 
Bach or Martin Luther King. Husbands and wives 
speak of “our song” and periodically revisit “the place 
we first met.” In the future, we can anticipate greater 
variety in the kinds of rituals adhered to in family 

As we accelerate and introduce arhythmic patterns 
into the pace of change, we need to mark off certain 
regularities for preservation, exactly the way we now 
mark off certain forests, historical monuments, or bird 
sanctuaries for protection. We may even need to 
manufacture ritual. 

No longer at the mercy of the elements as we once 
were, no longer condemned to darkness at night or 
frost in the morning, no longer positioned in an un- 
changing physical environment, we are helped to 
orient ourselves in space and time by social, as dis- 
tinct from natural, regularities. 

In the United States, the arrival of spring is marked 
for most urban dwellers not by a sudden greenness 
—there is little green in Manhattan— but by the open- 
ing of the baseball season. The first ball is thrown by 
the President or some other dignitary, and thereafter 
millions of citizens follow, day by day, the unfolding 
of a mass ritual. Similarly, the end of summer is 
marked as much by the World Series as by any natu- 
ral symbol. 

Even those who ignore sports cannot help but be 
aware of these large and pleasantly predictable 
events. Radio and television carry baseball into every 
home. Newspapers are filled with sports news. Images 
of baseball form a backdrop, a kind of musical obbli- 
gato that enters our awareness. Whatever happens to 
the stock market, or to world politics, or to family life, 
the American League and the National League run 
through their expected motions. Outcomes of indi- 
vidual games vary. The standings of the teams go up 
and down. But the drama plays itself out within a 
set of reassuringly rigid and durable rules. 

396 Strategies for Survival 

The opening of Congress every January; the ap- 
pearance of new car models in the fall; seasonal 
variations in fashion; the April 15 deadline for filing 
income tax; the arrival of Christmas; the New Year’s 
Eve party; the fixed national holidays. All these 
punctuate our time predictably, supplying a back- 
ground of temporal regularity that is necessary 
(though hardly sufficient) for mental health. 

The pressure of change, however, is to “unhitch” 
these from the calendar, to loosen and irregularize 
them. Often there are economic benefits for doing so. 
But there may also be hidden costs through the loss 
of stable temporal points of reference that today still 
lend some pattern and continuity to everyday life. 
Instead of eliminating these wholesale, we may wish 
to retain some, and, indeed, to introduce certain regu- 
larities where they do not exist. (Boxing champion- 
ship matches are held at irregular, unpredictable 
times. Perhaps these highly ritualistic events should 
be held at fixed intervals as the Olympic games are.) 

As leisure increases, we have the opportunity to 
introduce additional stability points and rituals into 
the society, such as new holidays, pageants and 
games. Such mechanisms could not only provide a 
backdrop of continuity in everyday life, but serve 
to integrate societies, and cushion them somewhat 
against the fragmenting impact of super-industrialism. 
We might, for example, create holidays to honor 
Galileo or Mozart, Einstein or Cezanne. We might 
create a global pageantry based on man’s conquest of 
outer space. 

Even now the succession of space launchings and 
capsule retrievals is beginning to take on a kind of 
ritual dramatic pattern. Millions stand transfixed as 
the countdown begins and the mission works itself 
out. For at least a fleeting instant, they share a reali- 
zation of the oneness of humanity and its potential 
competence in the face of the universe. 

By regularizing such events and by greatly adding 
to the pageantry that surrounds them, we can weave 

Coping with Tomorrow 397 

them into the ritual framework of the new society and 
use them as sanity-preserving points of temporal 
reference. Certainly, July 20, the day Astronaut Arm- 
strong took “one small step for man, one giant leap 
for mankind,'' ought to be made into an annual global 
celebration of the unity of man. 

In this way, by making use of new materials, as 
well as already existing rituals, by introducing change, 
wherever possible, in the form of predictable, rather 
than erratic chains of events, we can help provide 
elements of continuity even in the midst of social 

The cultural transformation of the Manus Islanders 
was simple compared with the one we face. We shall 
survive it only if we move beyond personal tactics to 
social strategies— providing new support services for 
the change-harassed individual, building continuity 
and change-buffers into the emergent civilization of 

All this is aimed at minimizing the human damage 
wrought by rapid change. But there is another way of 
attacking the problem, too. This is to expand man's 
adaptive capacities— the central task of education 
during the Super-industrial Revolution. 

Chapter 18 


In the quickening race to put men and machines 
on the planets, tremendous resources are devoted to 
making possible a “soft landing.” Every sub-system 
of the landing craft is exquisitely designed to with- 
stand the shock of arrival. Armies of engineers, geolo- 
gists, physicists, metallurgists and other specialists 
concentrate years of work on the problem of landing 
impact. Failure of any sub-system to function after 
touch-down could destroy human lives, not to men- 
tion billions of dollars worth of apparatus and tens of 
thousands of man-years of labor. 

Today one billion human beings, the total popula- 
tion of the technology-rich nations, are speeding 
toward a rendezvous with super-industrialism. Must 
we experience mass future shock? Or can we, too, 
achieve a “soft landing?” We are rapidly accelerating 
our approach. The craggy outlines of the new society 
are emerging from the mists of tomorrow. Yet even 
as we speed closer, evidence mounts that one of our 
most critical sub-systems— education— is dangerously 

What passes for education today, even in our “best” 
schools and colleges, is a hopeless anachronism. Par- 
ents look to education to fit their children for life in 
the future. Teachers warn that lack of an education 


Education in the Future Tense 


will cripple a child’s chances in the world of tomor- 
row. Government ministries, churches, the mass media 
—all exhort young people to stay in school, insisting 
that now, as never before, one’s future is almost 
wholly dependent upon education. 

Yet for all this rhetoric about the future, our schools 
face backward toward a dying system, rather than 
forward to the emerging new society. Their vast en- 
ergies are applied to cranking out Industrial Men— 
people tooled for survival in a system that will be 
dead before they are. 

To help avert future shock, we must create a super- 
industrial education system. And to do this, we must 
search for our objectives and methods in the future, 
rather than the past. 


Every society has its own characteristic attitude 
toward past, present and future. This time-bias, 
formed in response to the rate of change, is one of 
the least noticed, yet most powerful determinants of 
social behavior, and it is clearly reflected in the way 
the society prepares its young for adulthood. 

In stagnant societies, the past crept forward into 
the present and repeated itself in the future. In such 
a society, the most sensible way to prepare a child 
was to arm him with the skills of the past— for these 
were precisely the same skills he would need in the 
future. “With the ancient is wisdom,” the Bible ad- 

Thus father handed down to son all sorts of prac- 
tical techniques along with a clearly defined, highly 
traditional set of values. Knowledge was transmitted 
not by specialists concentrated in schools, but through 
the family, religious institutions, and apprenticeships. 
Learner and teacher were dispersed throughout the 
entire community. The key to the system, however, 

400 Strategies for Survival 

was its absolute devotion to yesterday. The curricu- 
lum of the past was the past. 

The mechanical age smashed all this, for indus- 
trialism required a new kind of man. It demanded 
skills that neither family nor church could, by them- 
selves, provide. It forced an upheaval in the value 
system. Above all, it required that man develop a new 
sense of time. 

Mass education was the ingenious machine con- 
structed by industrialism to produce the kind of 
adults it needed. The problem was inordinately com- 
plex. How to pre-adapt children for a new world— a 
world of repetitive indoor toil, smoke, noise, ma- 
chines, crowded living conditions, collective disci- 
pline, a world in which time was to be regulated not 
by the cycle of sun and moon, but by the factory 
whistle and the clock. 

The solution was an educational system that, in its 
very structure, simulated this new world. This system 
did not emerge instantly. Even today it retains throw- 
back elements from pre-industrial society. Yet the 
whole idea of assembling masses of students (raw 
material) to be processed by teachers (workers) in a 
centrally located school (factory) was a stroke of 
industrial genius. The whole administrative hierarchy 
of education, as it grew up, followed the model of 
industrial bureaucracy. The very organization of 
knowledge into permanent disciplines was grounded 
on industrial assumptions. Children marched from 
place to place and sat in assigned stations. Bells rang 
to announce changes of time. 

The inner life of the school thus became an antici- 
patory mirror, a perfect introduction to industrial 
society. The most criticized features of education to- 
day— the regimentation, lack of individualization, the 
rigid systems of seating, grouping, grading and mark- 
ing, the authoritarian role of the teacher— are pre- 
cisely those that made mass public education so 
effective an instrument of adaptation for its place 
and time. 

Education in the Future Tense 401 

Young people passing through this educational 
machine emerged into an adult society whose struc- 
ture of jobs, roles and institutions resembled that of 
the school itself. The schoolchild did not simply 
learn facts that he could use later on; he lived, as 
well as learned, a way of life modeled after the one 
he would lead in the future. 

The schools, for example, subtly instilled the new 
time-bias made necessary by industrialism. Faced 
with conditions that had never before existed, men 
had to devote increasing energy to understanding the 
present. Thus the focus of education itself began to 
shift, ever so slowly, away from the past and toward 
the present. 

The historic struggle waged by John Dewey and 
his followers to introduce “progressive” measures into 
American education was, in part, a desperate effort 
to alter the old time-bias. Dewey battled against the 
past-orientation of traditional education, trying to 
refocus education on the here-and-now. “The way out 
of scholastic systems that make the past an end in 
itself,” he declared, “is to make acquaintance with 
the past a means of understanding the present.” 

Nevertheless, decades later traditionalists like 
Jacques Maritain and neo-Aristotelians like Robert 
Hutchins still lashed out against anyone who attempt- 
ed to shift the balance in favor of the present. Hutch- 
ins, former president of the University of Chicago 
and now head of the Center for the Study of Demo- 
cratic Institutions, accused educators who wanted 
their students to learn about modem society of being 
members of a “cult of immediacy.” The progressives 
were accused of a dastardly crime: “presentism.” 

Echoes of this conflict over the time-bias persist 
even now, in the writings, for example, of Jacques 
Barzun, who insists that “It is . . . absurd to try edu- 
cating . . . ‘for a present day that defies definition.” 
Thus our education systems had not yet fully adapt- 
ed themselves to the industrial age when the need for 
a new revolution— the super-industrial revolution— 


Strategies for Survival 

burst upon them. And just as the progressives of yes- 
terday were accused of “presentism,” it is likely that 
the education reformers of tomorrow will be accused 
of “futurism.” For we shall find that a truly super- 
industrial education is only possible if we once more 
shift our time-bias forward. 


In the technological systems of tomorrow— fast, fluid 
and self-regulating— machines will deal with the flow 
of physical materials; men with the flow of informa- 
tion and insight. Machines will increasingly perform 
the routine tasks; men the intellectual and creative 
tasks. Machines and men both, instead of being con- 
centrated in gigantic factories and factory cities, will 
be scattered across the globe, linked together by 
amazingly sensitive, near-instantaneous communica- 
tions. Human work will move out of the factory and 
mass office into the community and the home. 

Machines will be synchronized, as some already 
are, to the billionth of a second; men will be de-syri- 
chronized. The factory whistle will vanish. Even the 
clock, “the key machine of the modern industrial 
age,” as Lewis Mumford called it a generation ago, 
will lose some of its power over human, as distinct 
from purely technological, affairs. Simultaneously, 
the organizations needed to control technology will 
shift from bureaucracy to Ad-hocracy, from perma- 
nence to transience, and from a concern with the 
present to a focus on the future. 

In such a world, the most valued attributes of the 
industrial era become handicaps. The technology of 
tomorrow requires not millions of lightly lettered 
men, ready to work in unison at endlessly repetitious 
jobs, it requires not men who take orders in unblink- 
ing fashion, aware that the price of bread is mechan- 
ical submission to authority, but men who can make 
critical judgments, who can weave their way through 

Education in the Future Tense 403 

novel environments, who are quick to spot new re- 
lationships in the rapidly changing reality. It requires 
men who, in C. P. Snow’s compelling term, “have 
the future in their bones.” 

Finally, unless we capture control of the accelerative 
thrust— and there are few signs yet that we will- 
tomorrow’s individual will have to cope with even 
more hectic change than we do today. For education 
the lesson is clear: its prime objective must be to 
increase the individual’s “cope-ability”— the speed and 
economy with which he can adapt to continual change. 
And the faster the rate of change, the more attention 
must be devoted to discerning the pattern of future 

It is no longer sufficient for Johnny to understand 
the past. It is not even enough for him to understand 
the present, for the here-and-now environment will 
soon vanish. Johnny must learn to anticipate the direc- 
tions and rate of change. He must, to put it technically, 
learn to make repeated, probabilistic, increasingly 
long-range assumptions about the future. And so must 
Johnny’s teachers. 

To create a super-industrial education, therefore, 
we shall first need to generate successive, alternative 
images of the future— assumptions about the kinds of 
jobs, professions, and vocations that may be needed 
twenty to fifty years in the future; assumptions about 
the kind of family forms and human relationships that 
will prevail; the kinds of ethical and moral problems 
that will arise; the kind of technology that will sur- 
round us and the organizational structures with which 
we must mesh. 

It is only by generating such assumptions, defining, 
debating, systematizing and continually updating 
them, that we can deduce the nature of the cognitive 
and affective skills that the people of tomorrow will 
need to survive the accelerative thrust. 

In the United States there are now two federally 
funded “education policy research centers”— one at 
Syracuse University, another at Stanford Research In- 

404 Strategies for Survival 

statute— charged with scanning the horizon with these 
purposes in mind. In Paris, the Organization for Eco- 
nomic Cooperation and Development has recently 
created a division with similar responsibilities. A hand- 
ful of people in the student movement have also 
begun to turn attention to the future. Yet these efforts 
are pitifully thin compared with the difficulty of shift- 
ing the time-bias of education. What is needed is 
nothing less than a future-responsive mass movement. 

We must create a “Council of the Future” in every 
school and community: Teams of men and women de- 
voted to probing the future in the interests of the 
present. By projecting “assumed futures,” by defining 
coherent educational responses to them, by opening 
these alternatives to active public debate, such coun- 
cils— similar in some ways to the “prognostic cells” 
advocated by Robert Jungk of the Technische Hoch- 
schule in Berlin— could have a powerful impact on 

Since no group holds a monopoly of insight into 
tomorrow, these councils must be democratic. Spe- 
cialists are vitally needed in them. But Councils of the 
Future will not succeed if they are captured by pro- 
fessional educators, planners, or any unrepresentative 
elite. Thus students must be involved from the very 
start— and not merely as co-opted rubber stamps for 
adult notions. Young people must help lead, if not, in 
fact, initiate, these councils so that “assumed futures” 
can be formulated and debated by those who will pre- 
sumably invent and inhabit the future. 

The council of the future movement offers a way 
out of the impasse in our schools and colleges. Trapped 
in an educational system intent on turning them into 
living anachronisms, today’s students have every right 
to rebel. Yet attempts by student radicals to base a 
social program on a pastiche of nineteenth-century 
Marxism and early twentieth-century Freudianism 
have revealed them to be as resolutely chained to the 
past and present as their elders. The creation of 

Education in the Future Tense 405 

future-oriented, future-shaping task forces in educa- 
tion could revolutionize the revolution of the young. 

For those educators who recognize the bankruptcy 
of the present system, but remain uncertain about next 
steps, the council movement could provide purpose 
as well as power, through alliance with, rather than 
hostility toward, youth. And by attracting community 
and parental participation— businessmen, trade union- 
ists, scientists, and others— the movement could build 
broad political support for the super-industrial revo- 
lution in education. 

It would be a mistake to assume that the present- 
day educational system is unchanging. On the con- 
trary, it is undergoing rapid change. But much of this 
change is no more than an attempt to refine the exis- 
tent machinery, making it ever more efficient in pur- 
suit of obsolete goals. The rest is a kind of Brownian 
motion, self-canceling, incoherent, directionless. What 
has been lacking is a consistent direction and a logical 
starting point. 

The council movement could supply both. The di- 
rection is super-industrialism. The starting point: the 


Such a movement will have to pursue three objectives 
—to transform the organizational structure of our edu- 
cational system, to revolutionize its curriculum, and to 
encourage a more future-focused orientation. It must 
begin by asking root questions about the status quo. 

We have noted, for example, that the basic organi- 
zation of the present school system parallels that of 
the factory. For generations, we have simply assumed 
that the proper place for education to occur is in a 
school. Yet if the new education is to simulate the 
society of tomorrow, should it take place in school at 

As levels of education rise, more and more parents 

406 Strategies for Survival 

are intellectually equipped to assume some responsi- 
bilities now delegated to the schools. Near Santa 
Monica, California, where the RAND Corporation 
has its headquarters, in the research belt around Cam- 
bridge, Massachusetts, or in such science cities as Oak 
Ridge, Los Alamos or Huntsville, many parents are 
clearly more capable of teaching certain subjects to 
their children than are the teachers in the local schools. 
With the move toward knowledge-based industry and 
the increase of leisure, we can anticipate a small but 
significant tendency for highly educated parents to 
pull their children at least partway out of the public 
education system, offering them home instruction in- 

This trend will be sharply encouraged by improve- 
ments in computer-assisted education, electronic video 
recording, holography and other technical fields. Par- 
ents and students might sign short-term “learning 
contracts” with the nearby school, committing them 
to teach-leam certain courses or course modules. Stu- 
dents might continue going to school for social and 
athletic activities or for subjects they cannot learn on 
their own or under the tutelage of parents or family 
friends. Pressures in this direction wall mount as the 
schools grow more anachronistic, and the courts will 
find themselves deluged with cases attacking the pres- 
ent obsolete compulsory attendance laws. We may 
witness, in short, a limited dialectical swing back to- 
ward education in the home. 

At Stanford, learning theorist Frederick J. McDon- 
ald has proposed a “mobile education” that takes the 
student out of the classroom not merely to observe 
but to participate in significant community activity. 

In New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant District, a sprawl- 
ing tension-ridden black slum, a planned experi- 
mental college would disperse its facilities throughout 
the stores, offices, and homes of a forty-five-block area, 
making it difficult to tell where the college ends and 
the community begins. Students would be taught skills 
by adults in the community as well as by regular 

Education in the Future Tense 407 

faculty. Curricula would be shaped by students and 
community groups as well as professional educators. 
The former United States Commissioner of Educa- 
tion, Harold Howe, II, has also suggested the reverse: 
bringing the community into the school so that local 
stores, beauty parlors, printing shops, be given free 
space in the schools in return for free lessons by the 
adults who run them. This plan, designed for urban 
ghetto schools, could be given more bite through a 
different conception of the nature of the enterprises 
invited into the school: computer service bureaus, for 
example, architectural offices, perhaps even medical 
laboratories, broadcasting stations and advertising 

Elsewhere, discussion centers on the design of 
secondary and higher education programs that make 
use of “mentors” drawn from the adult population. 
Such mentors would not only transmit skills, but would 
show how the abstractions of the textbook are applied 
in life. Accountants, doctors, engineers, businessmen, 
carpenters, builders and planners might all become 
part of an “outside faculty” in another dialectical 
swing, this time toward a new kind of apprenticeship. 

Many similar changes are in the wind. They point, 
however tentatively, to a long overdue breakdown of 
the factory-model school. 

This dispersal in geographical and social space must 
be accompanied by dispersal in time. The rapid obso- 
lescence of knowledge and the extension of life span 
make it clear that the skills learned in youth are un- 
likely to remain relevant by the time old age arrives. 
Super-industrial education must therefore make pro- 
vision for life-long education on a plug-in /plug-out 

If learning is to be stretched over a lifetime, there is 
reduced justification for forcing kids to attend school 
full time. For many young people, part-time schooling 
and part-time work at low-skill, paid and unpaid 
community service tasks will prove more satisfying 
and educational. 

408 Strategies for Survival 

Such innovations imply enormous changes in in- 
structional techniques as well. Today lectures still 
dominate the classroom. This method symbolizes the 
old top-down, hierarchical structure of industry. While 
still useful for limited purposes, lectures must inevita- 
bly give way to a whole battery of teaching tech- 
niques, ranging from role playing and gaming to 
computer-mediated seminars and the immersion of 
students in what we might call “contrived experi- 
ences.” Experiential programming methods, drawn 
from recreation, entertainment and industry, devel- 
oped by the psych-corps of tomorrow, will supplant 
the familiar, frequently brain-draining lecture. Learn- 
ing may be maximized through the use of controlled 
nutrition or drugs to raise IQ, to accelerate reading, 
or to enhance awareness. Such changes and the tech- 
nologies underlying them will facilitate basic change 
in the organizational pattern. 

The present administrative structures of education, 
based on industrial bureaucracy, will simply not be 
able to cope with the complexities and rate of change 
inherent in the system just described. They will be 
forced to move toward ad-hocratic forms of organiza- 
tion merely to retain some semblance of control. More 
important, however, are the organizational implica- 
tions for the classroom itself. 

Industrial Man was machine-tooled by the schools 
to occupy a comparatively permanent slot in the social 
and economic order. Super-industrial education must 
prepare people to function in temporary organizations 
—the Ad-hocracies of tomorrow. 

Today children who enter school quickly find them- 
selves part of a standard and basically unvarying or- 
ganizational structure: a teacher-led class. One adult 
and a certain number of subordinate young people, 
usually seated in fixed rows facing front, is the 
standardized basic unit of the industrial-era school. 
As they move, grade by grade, to the higher levels, 
they remain in this same fixed organizational frame. 
They gain no experience with other forms of orga- 

Education in the Future Tense 


nization, or with the problems of shifting from 
one organizational form to another. They get no train- 
ing for role versatility. 

Nothing is more clearly anti-adaptive. Schools of 
the future, if they wish to facilitate adaptation later in 
life, will have to experiment with far more varied 
arrangements. Classes with several teachers and a sin- 
gle student; classes with several teachers and a group 
of students; students organized into temporary task 
forces and project teams; students shifting from group 
work to individual or independent work and back— all 
these and their permutations will need to be employed 
to give the student some advance taste of the experi- 
ence he will face later on when he begins to move 
through the impermanent organizational geography of 

Organizational goals for the Councils of the Future 
thus become clear: dispersal, decentralization, inter- 
penetration with the community, ad-hocratic adminis- 
tration, a break-up of the rigid system of scheduling 
and grouping. When these objectives are accom- 
plished, any organizational resemblance between edu- 
cation and the industrial-era factory will be purely 

yesterday’s curriculum today 

As for curriculum, the Councils of the Future, instead 
of assuming that every subject taught today is taught 
for a reason, should begin from the reverse premise: 
nothing should be included in a required curriculum 
unless it can be strongly justified in terms of the fu- 
ture. If this means scrapping a substantial part of the 
formal curriculum, so be it. 

This is not intended as an “anti-cultural” statement 
or a plea for total destruction of the past. Nor does it 
suggest that we can ignore such basics as reading, 
writing and math. What it does mean is that tens of 
millions of children today are forced by law to spend 

410 Strategies for Survival 

precious hours of their lives grinding away at material 
whose future utility is highly questionable. (Nobody 
even claims it has much present utility. ) Should they 
spend as much time as they do learning French, or 
Spanish or German? Are the hours spent on English 
maximally useful? Should all children be required to 
study algebra? Might they not benefit more from 
studying probability? Logic? Computer programming? 
Philosophy? Aesthetics? Mass communications? 

Anyone who thinks the present curriculum makes 
sense is invited to explain to an intelligent fourteen- 
year-old why algebra or French or any other subject 
is essential for him. Adult answers are almost always 
evasive. The reason is simple: the present curriculum 
is a mindless holdover from the past. 

Why, for example, must teaching be organized 
around such fixed disciplines as English, economics, 
mathematics or biology? Why not around stages of 
the human life cycle: a course on birth, childhood, 
adolescence, marriage, career, retirement, death. Or 
around contemporary social problems? Or around sig- 
nificant technologies of the past and future? Or around 
countless other imaginable alternatives? 

The present curriculum and its division into air- 
tight compartments is not based on any well thought 
out conception of contemporary human needs. Still 
less is it based on any grasp of the future, any under- 
standing of what skills Johnny will require to live in 
the hurricane’s eye of change. It is based on inertia— 
and a bloody clash of academic guilds, each bent on 
aggrandizing its budget, pay scales and status. 

This obsolete curriculum, furthermore, imposes stan- 
dardization on the elementary and secondary schools. 
Youngsters are given little choice in determining what 
they wish to learn. Variations from school to school 
are minimal. The curriculum is nailed into place by 
the rigid entrance requirements of the colleges, which, 
in turn, reflect the vocational and social requirements 
of a vanishing society. 

In fighting to update education, the prognostic cells 

Education in the Future Tense 


of the revolution must set themselves up as curriculum 
review boards. Attempts by the present educational 
leadership to revise the physics curriculum, or im- 
prove the methods for teaching English or math are 
piecemeal at best. While it may be important to 
preserve aspects of the present curriculum and to 
introduce changes gradually, we need more than hap- 
hazard attempts to modernize. We need a systematic 
approach to the whole problem. 

These revolutionary review groups must not, how- 
ever, set out to design a single all-purpose, permanent 
new curriculum. Instead, they must invent sets of 
temporary curricula— along with procedures for evalu- 
ation and renovation as time goes by. There must be 
a systematic way to make curricular changes without 
necessarily triggering bloody intramural conflict each 

A fight must also be waged to alter the balance 
between standardization and variety in the curricu- 
lum. Diversity carried to its extreme could produce a 
non-society in which the lack of common frames of 
reference would make communication between people 
even more difficult than it is today. Yet the dangers of 
social fragmentation cannot be met by maintaining a 
highly homogeneous education system while the rest 
of the society races toward heterogeneity. 

One way to resolve the conflict between the need 
for variety and the need for common reference points 
is to distinguish in education between “data,” as it 
were, and “skills.” 


Society is differentiating. What is more, we shall never, 
no matter how refined our predictive tools become, be 
able to forecast the exact sequence of future states of 
the society. In this situation, it makes eminent good 
sense to hedge our educational bets. Just as genetic 
diversity favors the survival of species, educational 


Strategies for Survival 

diversity increases the odds for the survival of societies. 

Instead of a standardized elementary and secondary 
school curriculum in which all students are essentially 
exposed to the same data base— the same history, math, 
biology, literature, grammar, foreign languages, etc.— 
the futurist movement in education must attempt to 
create widely diversified data offerings. Children 
should be permitted far greater choice than at present; 
they should be encouraged to taste a wide variety of 
short-term courses (perhaps two or three weeks in 
length) before making longer-term commitments. 
Each school should provide scores of optional sub- 
jects, all based on identifiable assumptions about fu- 
ture needs. 

The range of subject matter should be broad enough 
so that apart from dealing with the “known” (i.e., 
highly probable) elements of the super-industrial fu- 
ture, some provision would be made for dealing with 
the unknown, the unexpected, the possible. We might 
do this by designing “contingency curricula”— educa- 
tional programs aimed at training people to handle 
problems that not only do not exist now, but which 
may, in fact, never materialize. We need, for example, 
a wide range of specialists to cope with potentially 
calamitous, though perhaps unlikely, contingencies: 
back-contamination of the earth from the planets or 
stars, the need to communicate with extra-terrestrial 
life, monstrosities produced by genetic experimenta- 
tion, etc. 

Even now we should be training cadres of young 
people for life in submarine communities. Part of the 
next generation may well find itself living under the 
oceans. We should be taking groups of students out 
in submarines, teaching them to dive, introducing 
them to underwater housing materials, power require- 
ments, the perils and promises involved in a human 
invasion of the oceans. And we should be doing this 
not merely with graduate students, but with children 
drawn from elementary schools, even the nurseries. 

Simultaneously, other young people should be in- 

Education in the Future Tense 


troduced to the wonders of outer space, living with 
or near the astronauts, learning about planetary en- 
vironments, becoming as familiar with space technol- 
ogy as most teen-agers today are with that of the 
family car. Still others should be encouraged, not dis- 
couraged, from experimenting with communal and 
other family forms of the future. Such experimenta- 
tion, under responsible supervision and constructively 
channeled, should be seen as part of an appropriate 
education, not as an interruption or negation of the 
learning process. 

The principle of diversity will dictate fewer required 
courses, increasing choice among esoteric specialties. 
By moving in this direction and creating contingency 
curricula, the society can bank a wide range of skills, 
including some it may never have to use, but which 
it must have at its instant command in the event our 
highest probability assumptions about the future turn 
out to be mistaken. 

The result of such a policy will be to produce far 
more individualized human beings, more differences 
among people, more varied ideas, political and social 
sub-systems, and more color. 


Unfortunately, this necessary diversification of data 
offerings will deepen the problems of overchoice in 
our lives. Any program of diversification must there- 
fore be accompanied by strong efforts to create com- 
mon reference points among people through a unifying 
system of skills. While all students should not study 
the same course, imbibe the same facts, or store the 
same sets of data, all students should be grounded in 
certain common skills needed for human communica- 
tion and social integration. 

If we assume a continuing rise in transience, novelty 
and diversity, the nature of some of these behavioral 
skills becomes clear. A powerful case can be made, for 


Strategies for Survival 

example, that the people who must live in super-indus- 
trial societies will need new skills in three crucial 
areas: learning, relating and choosing. 

Learning. Given further acceleration, we can con- 
clude that knowledge will grow increasingly perisha- 
ble. Todays “fact” becomes tomorrow’s “misinforma- 
tion.” This is no argument against learning facts or 
data— far from it. But a society in which the individual 
constantly changes his job, his place of residence, his 
social ties and so forth, places an enormous premium 
on learning efficiency. Tomorrow’s schools must there- 
fore teach not merely data, but ways to manipulate it. 
Students must learn how to discard old ideas, how and 
when to replace them. They must, in short, learn how 
to learn. 

Early computers consisted of a “memory” or bank 
of data plus a “program” or set of instructions that 
told the machine how to manipulate the data. Large 
late- generation computer systems not only store great- 
er masses of data, but multiple programs, so that the 
operator can apply a variety of programs to the same 
data base. Such systems also require a “master pro- 
gram” that, in effect, tells the machine which program 
to apply and when. The multiplication of programs 
and addition of a master program vastly increased 
the power of the computer. 

A similar strategy can be used to enhance human 
adaptability. By instructing students how to learn, un- 
learn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be 
added to education. 

Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Re- 
sources Research Organization phrases it simply: “The 
new education must teach the individual how to clas- 
sify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its 
veracity, how to change categories when necessary, 
how to move from the concrete to the abstract and 
back, how to look at problems from a new direction- 
how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be 
the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has 
not learned how to learn.” 

Education in the Future Tense 415 

Relating. We can also anticipate increasing difficulty 
in making and maintaining rewarding human ties, if 
life pace continues its acceleration. 

Listening intently to what young people are saying 
makes it clear that the once-simple business of forging 
real friendships has already assumed new complexity 
for them. When students complain, for instance, that 
‘people can’t communicate,” they are not simply re- 
ferring to crossing the generational divide, but to 
problems they have among themselves as well. “New 
people in the last four days are all the ones that I 
remember,” writes Rod McKuen, a songwriter and 
poet currently popular among the youth. 

Once the transience factor is recognized as a cause 
of alienation, some of the superficially puzzling behav- 
ior of young people becomes comprehensible. Many 
of them, for example, regard sex as a quick way to 
“get to know someone.” Instead of viewing sexual 
intercourse as something that follows a long process 
of relationship-building, they see it, rightly or not, as 
a shortcut to deeper human understanding. 

The same wish to accelerate friendship helps explain 
their fascination with such psychological techniques as 
“sensitivity training,” “T-grouping,” “micro-labs,” so- 
called “touchie-feelie” or non-verbal games, and the 
whole group dynamics phenomenon in general. Their 
enthusiasm for communal living, too, expresses the 
underlying sense of loneliness and inability to “open 
up” with others. 

All these activities throw participants into intimate 
psychological contact without lengthy preparation, 
often without advance acquaintanceship. In many 
cases, the relationships are short-lived by design, the 
purpose of the game being to intensify affective rela- 
tionships despite the temporariness of the situation. 

By speeding the turnover of people in our lives, we 
allow less time for trust to develop, less time for 
friendships to ripen. Thus we witness a search for 
ways to cut through the polite “public” behavior 
directly to the sharing of intimacy. 

416 Strategies for Survival 

One may doubt the effectiveness of these experi- 
mental techniques for breaking down suspicion and 
reserve, but until the rate of human turnover is sub- 
stantially slowed, education must help people to 
accept the absence of deep friendships, to accept 
loneliness and mistrust— or it must find new ways to 
accelerate friendship formation. Whether by more 
imaginative grouping of students, or by organizing 
new kinds of work-teams, or through variations of the 
techniques discussed above, education will have to 
teach us to relate. 

Choosing. If we also assume that the shift toward 
super-industrialism will multiply the kinds and com- 
plexities of decisions facing the individual, it becomes 
apparent that education must address the issue of 
overchoice directly. 

Adaptation involves the making of successive 
choices. Presented with numerous alternatives, an 
individual chooses the one most compatible with his 
values. As overchoice deepens, the person who lacks 
a clear grasp of his own values (whatever these may 
be) is progressively crippled. Yet the more crucial the 
question of values becomes, the less willing our pres- 
ent schools are to grapple with it. It is no wonder that 
millions of young people trace erratic pathways into 
the future, ricocheting this way and that like unguided 

In pre-industrial societies, where values are rela- 
tively stable, there is little question about the right of 
the older generation to impose its values on the young. 
Education concerns itself as much with the inculcation 
of moral values as with the transmission of skills. Even 
during early industrialism, Herbert Spencer main- 
tained that “Education has for its object the forma- 
tion of character,” which, freely translated, means the 
seduction or terrorization of the young into the value 
systems of the old. 

As the shock waves of the industrial revolution 
rattled the ancient architecture of values and new con- 
ditions demanded new values, educators backed off. 

Education in the Future Tense 417 

As a reaction against clerical education, teaching facts 
and ‘letting the student make up his own mind” came 
to be regarded as a progressive virtue. Cultural rela- 
tivism and an appearance of scientific neutrality dis- 
placed the insistence on traditional values. Education 
clung to the rhetoric of character formation, but edu- 
cators fled from the very idea of value inculcation, 
deluding themselves into believing that they were not 
in the value business at all. 

Today it embarrasses many teachers to be reminded 
that all sorts of values are transmitted to students, if 
not by their textbooks then by the informal curricu- 
lum-seating arrangements, the school bell, age segre- 
gation, social class distinctions, the authority of the 
teacher, the very fact that students are in a school 
instead of the community itself. All such arrangements 
send unspoken messages to the student, shaping his 
attitudes and outlook. Yet the formal curriculum con- 
tinues to be presented as though it were value-free. 
Ideas, events, and phenomena are stripped of all value 
implications, disembodied from moral reality. 

Worse yet, students are seldom encouraged to an- 
alyze their own values and those of their teachers and 
peers. Millions pass through the education system 
without once having been forced to search out the 
contradictions in their own value systems, to probe 
their own life goals deeply, or even to discuss these 
matters candidly with adults and peers. Students hur- 
ry from class to class. Teachers and professors are 
harried and grow increasingly remote. Even the “bull 
session”— informal, extra-curricular discussions about 
sex, politics or religion that help participants identify 
and clarify their values— grow less frequent and less 
intimate as transience rises. 

Nothing could be better calculated to produce peo- 
ple uncertain of their goals, people incapable of effec- 
tive decision-making under conditions of overchoice. 
Super-industrial educators must not attempt to impose 
a rigid set of values on the student; but they must 
systematically organize formal and informal activities 


Strategies for Survival 

that help the student define, explicate and test his 
values, whatever they are. Our schools will continue to 
turn out industrial men until we teach young people 
the skills necessary to identify and clarify, if not recon- 
cile, conflicts in their own value systems. 

The curriculum of tomorrow must thus include not 
only an extremely wide range of data-oriented courses, 
but a strong emphasis on future-relevant behavioral 
skills. It must combine variety of factual content with 
universal training in what might be termed “life 
know-how.” It must find ways to do both at the same 
time, transmitting one in circumstances or environ- 
ments that produce the other. 

In this way, by making definite assumptions about 
the future and designing organizational and curricular 
objectives based on them, the Councils of the Future 
can begin to shape a truly super-industrial education 
system. One final critical step remains, however. For 
it is not enough to refocus the system, on the future. 
We must shift the time-bias of the individual as well. 


Three hundred and fifty years after his death, scien- 
tists are still finding evidence to support Cervantes’ 
succinct insight into adaptational psychology: “Fore- 
warned fore-armed.” Self-evident as it may seem, in 
most situations we can help individuals adapt better 
if we simply provide them with advance information 
about what lies ahead. 

Studies of the reactions of astronauts, displaced 
families, and industrial workers almost uniformly point 
to this conclusion. “Anticipatory information,” writes 
psychologist Hugh Bowen, “allows ... a dramatic 
change in performance.” Whether the problem is that 
of driving a car down a crowded street, piloting a 
plane, solving intellectual puzzles, playing a cello or 
dealing with interpersonal difficulties, performance im- 

Education in the Future Tense 419 

proves when the individual knows what to expect 

The mental processing of advance data about any 
subject presumably cuts down on the amount of 
processing and the reaction time during the actual 
period of adaptation. It was Freud, I believe, who 
said: “Thought is action in rehearsal.” 

Even more important than any specific bits of ad- 
vance information, however, is the habit of anticipa- 
tion. This conditioned ability to look ahead plays a 
key role in adaptation. Indeed, one of the hidden clues 
to successful coping may well lie in the individual’s 
sense of the future. The people among us who keep 
up with change, who manage to adapt well, seem to 
have a richer, better developed sense of what lies 
ahead than those who cope poorly. Anticipating the 
future has become a habit with them. The chess 
player who anticipates the moves of his opponent, the 
executive who thinks in long range terms, the student 
who takes a quick glance at the table of contents 
before starting to read page one, all seem to fare 

People vary widely in the amount of thought they 
devote to the future, as distinct from past and present. 
Some invest far more resources than others in project- 
ing themselves forward— imagining, analyzing and 
evaluating future possibilities and probabilities. They 
also vary in how far they tend to project. Some habitu- 
ally think in terms of the “deep future.” Others pene- 
trate only into the “shallow future.” 

We have, therefore, at least two dimensions of 
“futureness”— how much and how far. There is evi- 
dence that among normal teenagers maturation is 
accompanied by what sociologist Stephen L. Klineberg 
of Princeton describes as “an increasing concern with 
distant future events ” This suggests that people of dif- 
ferent ages characteristically devote different amounts 
of attention to the future. Their “time horizons” may 
also differ. But age is not the only influence on our 
futureness. Cultural conditioning affects it, and one 

420 Strategies for Survival 

of the most important cultural influences of all is the 
rate of change in the environment. 

This is why the individuals sense of the future 
plays so critical a part in his ability to cope. The 
faster the pace of life, the more rapidly the present 
environment slips away from us, the more rapidly do 
future potentialities turn into present reality. As the 
environment churns faster, we are not only pressured 
to devote more mental resources to thinking about 
the future, but to extend our time horizon— to probe 
further and further ahead. The driver dawdling along 
an expressway at twenty miles per hour can success- 
fully negotiate a turn into an exit lane, even if the 
sign indicating the cut-off is very close to the exit. 
The faster he drives, however, the further back the sign 
must be placed to give him the time needed to read 
and react. In quite the same way, the generalized 
acceleration of life compels us to lengthen our time 
horizon or risk being overtaken and overwhelmed by 
events. The faster the environment changes, the more 
the need for futureness. 

Some individuals, of course, project themselves so 
far into the future for such long periods that their 
anticipations become escapist fantasies. Far more 
common, however, are those individuals whose antici- 
pations are so thin and short-range that they are con- 
tinually surprised and flustered by change. 

The adaptive individual appears to be able to 
project himself forward just the “right” distance in 
time, to examine and evaluate alternative courses of 
action open to him before the need for final decision, 
and to make tentative decisions beforehand. 

Studies by social scientists like Lloyd Warner in 
the United States and Elliott Jaques in Britain, for 
example, have shown how important this time element 
is in management decision-making. The man on the 
assembly line is given work that requires him to con- 
cern himself only with events close to him in time. 
The men who rise in management are expected, with 

Education in the Future Tense 421 

each successive promotion, to concern themselves with 
events further in the future. 

Sociologist Benjamin D. Singer of the University of 
Western Ontario, whose field is social psychiatry, has 
gone further. According to Singer, the future plays an 
enormous, largely unappreciated part in present be- 
havior. He argues, for instance, that “the ‘self of the 
child is in part feedback from what it is toward what 
it is becoming.” The target toward which the child is 
moving is his “future focused role image”— a concep- 
tion of what he or she wishes to be like at various 
points in the future. 

This “future focused role image,” Singer writes, 
“tends ... to organize and give meaning to the pattern 
of life he is expected to take. Where, however, there 
is only a hazily defined or functionally non-existent 
future role, then the meaning which is attached to 
behavior valued by the larger society does not exist; 
schoolwork becomes meaningless, as do the rules of 
middle-class society and of parental discipline.” 

Put more simply, Singer asserts that each individual 
carries in his mind not merely a picture of himself at 
present, a self-image, but a set of pictures of himself 
as he wishes to be in the future. “This person of the 
future provides a focus for the child; it is a magnet 
toward which he is drawn; the framework for the 
present, one might say, is created by the future.” 

One would think that education, concerned with 
the development of the individual and the enhance- 
ment of adaptability, would do all in its power to help 
children develop the appropriate time-bias, the suita- 
ble degree of futureness. Nothing could be more 
dangerously false. 

Consider, for example, the contrast between the 
way schools today treat space and time. Every pupil, 
in virtually every school, is carefully helped to position 
himself in space. He is required to study geography. 
Maps, charts and globes all help pinpoint his spatial 
location. Not only do we locate him with respect to 
his city, region, or country, we even try to explain 

422 Strategies for Survival 

the spatial relationship of the earth to the rest of the 
solar system and, indeed, to the universe. 

When it comes to locating the child in time, how- 
ever, we play a cruel and disabling trick on him. He 
is steeped, to the extent possible, in his nation s past 
and that of the world. He studies ancient Greece and 
Rome, the rise of feudalism, the French Revolution, 
and so forth. He is introduced to Bible stories and 
patriotic legends. He is peppered with endless ac- 
counts of wars, revolutions and upheavals, each one 
dutifully tagged with its appropriate date in the past. 

At some point he is even introduced to “current 
events.” He may be asked to bring in newspaper 
clippings, and a really enterprising teacher may go so 
far as to ask him to watch the evening news on tele- 
vision. He is offered, in short, a thin sliver of the 

And then time stops. The school is silent about 
tomorrow. “Not only do our history courses terminate 
with the year they are taught,” wrote Professor Ossip 
Flechtheim a generation ago, “but the same situation 
exists in the study of government and economics, 
psychology and biology.” Time comes racing to an 
abrupt halt. The student is focused backward instead 
of forward. The future, banned as it were from the 
classroom, is banned from his consciousness as well. It 
is as though there were no future. 

This violent distortion of his time sense shows up 
in a revealing experiment conducted by psychologist 
John Condry, Professor in the Department of Human 
Development, Cornell University. In separate studies 
at Cornell and UCLA, Condry gave groups of students 
the opening paragraph of a story. This paragraph de- 
scribed a fictional “Professor Hoffman,” his wife and 
their adopted Korean daughter. The daughter is found 
crying, her clothes tom, a group of other children 
staring at her. The students were asked to complete 
the story. 

What the subjects did not know is that they had 
previously been divided into two groups. In the case 

Education in the Future Tense 423 

of one group, the opening paragraph was set in the 
past. The characters “heard,” “saw” or “ran.” The stu- 
dents were asked to “Tell what Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman 
did and what was said by the children.” For the second 
group, the paragraph was set entirely in the future 
tense. They were asked to “Tell what Mr. and Mrs. 
Hoffman will do and what will be said by the chil- 
dren.” Apart from this shift of tense, both paragraphs 
and instructions were identical. 

The results of the experiment were sharply etched. 
One group wrote comparatively rich and interesting 
story-endings, peopling their accounts with many 
characters, creatively introducing new situations and 
dialogue. The other produced extremely sketchy end- 
ings, thin, unreal and forced. The past was richly 
conceived; the future empty. “It is,” Professor Condry 
commented, “as if we find it easier to talk about the 
past than the future.” 

If our children are to adapt more successfully to 
rapid change, this distortion of time must be ended. 
We must sensitize them to the possibilities and proba- 
bilities of tomorrow. We must enhance their sense of 
the future. 

Society has many built-in time spanners that help to 
link the present generation with the past. Our sense 
of the past is developed by contact with the older gen- 
eration, by our knowledge of history, by the accumu- 
lated heritage of art, music, literature, and science 
passed down to us through the years. It is enhanced 
by immediate contact with the objects that surround 
us, each of which has a point of origin in the past, 
each of which provides us with a trace of identification 
with the past. 

No such time spanners enhance our sense of the 
future. We have no objects, no friends, no relatives, 
no works of art, no music or literature, that originate 
in the future. We have, as it were, no heritage of the 

Despite this, there are ways to send the human mind 
arching forward as well as backward. We need to 


Strategies for Survival 

begin by creating a stronger future-consciousness on 
the part of the public, and not just by means of Buck 
Rogers comic strips, films like Barbarella, or articles 
about the marvels of space travel or medical research. 
These make a contribution, but what is needed is a 
concentrated focus on the social and personal impli- 
cations of the future, not merely on its technological 

If the contemporary individual is going to have to 
cope with the equivalent of millennia of change within 
the compressed span of a single lifetime, he must 
carry within his skull reasonably accurate (even if 
gross) images of the future. 

Medieval men possessed an image of the afterlife, 
complete with vivid mental pictures of heaven and 
hell. We need now to propagate dynamic, non-super- 
natural images of what temporal life will be like, what 
it will sound and smell and taste and feel like in the 
fast-onrushing future. 

To create such images and thereby soften the impact 
of future shock, we must begin by making speculation 
about the future respectable. Instead of deriding the 
“crystal-ball gazer,” we need to encourage people, 
from childhood on, to speculate freely, even fancifully, 
not merely about what next week holds in store for 
them but about what the next generation holds in 
store for the entire human race. We offer our children 
courses in history; why not also courses in “Future,” 
courses in which the possibilities and probabilities of 
the future are systematically explored, exactly as we 
now explore the social system of the Romans or the 
rise of the feudal manor? 

Robert Jungk, one of Europe’s leading futurist- 
philosophers, has said: “Nowadays almost exclusive 
stress is laid on learning what has happened and has 
been done. Tomorrow ... at least one third of all 
lectures and exercises ought to be concerned with 
scientific, technical, artistic and philosophical work in 
progress, anticipated crises and possible future an- 
swers to these challenges.” 

Education in the Future Tense 425 

We do not have a literature of the future for use in 
these courses, but we do have literature about the 
future, consisting not only of the great utopias but 
also of contemporary science fiction. Science fiction is 
held in low regard as a branch of literature, and per- 
haps it deserves this critical contempt. But if we view 
it as a kind of sociology of the future, rather than as 
literature, science fiction has immense value as a mind- 
stretching force for the creation of the habit of antici- 
pation. Our children should be studying Arthur C. 
Clarke, William Tenn, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury 
and Robert Sheckley, not because these writers can 
tell them about rocket ships and time machines but, 
more important, because they can lead young minds 
through an imaginative exploration of the jungle of 
political, social, psychological, and ethical issues that 
will confront these children as adults. Science fiction 
should be required reading for Future I. 

But students should not only read. Various games 
have been designed to educate young people and 
adults about future possibilities and probabilities. 
Future, a game distributed by Kaiser Aluminum and 
Chemical Corporation on the occasion of its twentieth 
anniversary, introduces players to various technologi- 
cal and social alternatives of the future, and forces 
them to choose among them. It reveals how techno- 
logical and social events are linked to one another, 
encourages the player to think in probabilistic terms, 
and, with various modifications, can help clarify the 
role of values in decision-making. At Cornell, Profes- 
sor Jose Villegas of the Department of Design and 
Environmental Analysis, has, with the aid of a group 
of students, created a number of games having to do 
with housing and community action in the future. An- 
other game developed under his direction is devoted 
to elucidating the ways in which technology and 
values will interact in the world of tomorrow. 

With younger children, other exercises are possible. 
To sharpen the individual's future-focused role image, 
students can be asked to write their own “future 

426 Strategies for Survival 

autobiographies” in which they picture themselves 
five, ten or twenty years in the future. By submitting 
these to class discussion, by comparing different as- 
sumptions in them, contradictions in the child’s own 
projections can be identified and examined. At a time 
when the self is being broken into successive selves, 
this technique can be used to provide continuity for 
the individual. If children at fifteen, for example, are 
given the future autobiographies they themselves 
wrote at age twelve, they can see how maturation has 
altered their own images of the future. They can be 
helped to understand how their values, talents, skills, 
and knowledge have shaped their own possibilities. 

Students, asked to imagine themselves several years 
hence, might be reminded that their brothers, parents, 
and friends will also be older, and asked to imagine 
the “important others” in their lives as they will be. 

Such exercises, linked with the study of probability 
and simple methods of prediction that can be used in 
one’s personal life, can delineate and modify each 
individual’s conception of the future, both personal 
and social. They can create a new individual time- 
bias, a new sensitivity to tomorrow that will prove 
helpful in coping with the exigencies of the present. 

Among highly adaptive individuals, men and wom- 
en who are truly alive in, and responsive to, their 
times, there is a virtual nostalgia for the future. Not 
an uncritical acceptance of all the potential horrors of 
tomorrow, not a blind belief in change for its own 
sake, but an overpowering curiosity, a drive to know 
what will happen next. 

This drive does strange and wonderful things. One 
winter night I witnessed a poignant quiver run through 
a seminar room when a white-haired man explained 
to a group of strangers what had brought him there 
to attend my class on the Sociology of the Future. 
The group included corporate long-range planners, 
staff from major foundations, publishers and research 
centers. Each participant spieled off his reason for 
attending. Finally, it was the turn of the little man in 

Education in the Future Tense 427 

the comer. He spoke in cracked, but eloquent English: 
“My name is Charles Stein. I am a needle worker 
all my life. I am seventy-seven years old, and I want 
to get what I didn’t get in my youth. I want to know 
about the future. I want to die an educated man!” 
The abrupt silence that greeted this simple affirma- 
tion still rings in the ears of those present. Before this 
eloquence, all the armor of graduate degrees, corpo- 
rate titles and prestigious rank fell. I hope Mr. Stein 
is still alive, enjoying his future, and teaching others, 
as he did us that night. 

When millions share this passion about the future 
we shall have a society far better equipped to meet the 
impact of change. To create such curiosity and aware- 
ness is a cardinal task of education. To create an 
education that will create this curiosity is the third, 
and perhaps central, mission of the super-industrial 
revolution in the schools. 

Education must shift into the future tense. 

Chapter 19 


Future shock— the disease of change— can be pre- 
vented. But it will take drastic social, even political 
action. No matter how individuals try to pace their 
lives, no matter what psychic crutches we offer them, 
no matter how we alter education, the society as a 
whole will still be caught on a runaway treadmill 
until we capture control of the accelerative thrust 

The high velocity of change can be traced to many 
factors. Population growth, urbanization, the shifting 
proportions of young and old— all play their part. Yet 
technological advance is clearly a critical node in the 
network of causes; indeed, it may be the node that 
activates the entire net. One powerful strategy in the 
battle to prevent mass future shock, therefore, involves 
the conscious regulation of technological advance. 

We cannot and must not turn off the switch of 
technological progress. Only romantic fools babble 
about returning to a “state of nature.” A state of nature 
is one in which infants shrivel and die for lack of 
elementary medical care, in which malnutrition stulti- 
fies the brain, in which, as Hobbes reminded us, the 
typical life is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” To turn 
our back on technology would be not only stupid but 


Taming Technology 429 

Given that a majority of men still figuratively live in 
the twelfth century, who are we even to contemplate 
throwing away the key to economic advance? Those 
who prate anti-technological nonsense in the name of 
some vague “human values” need to be asked “which 
humans?” To deliberately turn back the clock would 
be to condemn billions to enforced and permanent 
misery at precisely the moment in history when their 
liberation is becoming possible. We clearly need not 
less but more technology. 

At the same time, it is undeniably true that we fre- 
quently apply new technology stupidly and selfishly. 
In our haste to milk technology for immediate eco- 
nomic advantage, we have turned our environment 
into a physical and social tinderbox. 

The speed-up of diffusion, the self-reinforcing char- 
acter of technological advance, by which each for- 
ward step facilitates not one but many additional 
further steps, the intimate fink-up between technology 
and social arrangements— all these create a form of 
psychological pollution, a seemingly unstoppable ac- 
celeration of the pace of fife. 

This psychic pollution is matched by the industrial 
vomit that fills our skies and seas. Pesticides and 
herbicides filter into our foods. Twisted automobile 
carcasses, aluminum cans, non-returnable glass bottles 
and synthetic plastics form immense kitchen middens 
in our midst as more and more of our detritus resists 
decay. We do not even begin to know what to do with 
our radioactive wastes— whether to pump them into 
the earth, shoot them into outer space, or pour them 
into the oceans. 

Our technological powers increase, but the side 
effects and potential hazards also escalate. We risk 
thermopollution of the oceans themselves, overheating 
them, destroying immeasurable quantities of marine 
life, perhaps even melting the polar icecaps. On land 
we concentrate such large masses of population in 
such small urban-technological islands, that we threat- 
en to use up the air’s oxygen faster than it can be 


Strategies for Survival 

replaced, conjuring up the possibility of new Saharas 
where the cities are now. Through such disruptions 
of the natural ecology, we may literally, in the words 
of biologist Barry Commoner, be “destroying this 
planet as a suitable place for human habitation.” 


As the effects of irresponsibly applied technology be- 
come more grimly evident, a political backlash mounts. 
An offshore drilling accident that pollutes 800 square 
miles of the Pacific triggers a shock wave of indigna- 
tion all over the United States. A multi-millionaire 
industrialist in Nevada, Howard Hughes, prepares a 
lawsuit to prevent the Atomic Energy Commission 
from continuing its underground nuclear tests. In 
Seattle, the Boeing Company fights growing public 
clamor against its plans to build a supersonic jet 
transport. In Washington, public sentiment forces a 
reassessment of missile policy. At MIT, Wisconsin, 
Cornell, and other universities, scientists lay down 
test tubes and slide rules during a “research mora- 
torium” called to discuss the social implications of 
their work. Students organize “environmental teach- 
ins” and the President lectures the nation about the 
ecological menace. Additional evidences of deep con- 
cern over our technological course are turning up in 
Britain, France and other nations. 

We see here the first glimmers of an international 
revolt that will rock parliaments and congresses in the 
decades ahead. This protest against the ravages of 
irresponsibly used technology could crystallize in 
pathological form— as a future-phobic fascism with 
scientists substituting for Jews in the concentration 
camps. Sick societies need scapegoats. As the pressures 
of change impinge more heavily on the individual and 
the prevalence of future shock increases, this night- 
marish outcome gains plausibility. It is significant 

Taming Technology 431 

that a slogan scrawled on a wall by striking students 
in Paris called for “death to the technocrats!” 

The incipient worldwide movement for control of 
technology, however, must not be permitted to fall 
into the hands of irresponsible technophobes, nihilists 
and Rousseauian romantics. For the power of the 
technological drive is too great to be stopped by Lud- 
dite paroxysms. Worse yet, reckless attempts to halt 
technology will produce results quite as destructive 
as reckless attempts to advance it. 

Caught between these twin perils, we desperately 
need a movement for responsible technology. We 
need a broad political grouping rationally committed 
to further scientific research and technological ad- 
vance— but on a selective basis only. Instead of wasting 
its energies in denunciations of The Machine or in 
negativistic criticism of the space program, it should 
formulate a set of positive technological goals for the 

Such a set of goals, if comprehensive and well 
worked out, could bring order to a field now in total 
shambles. By 1980, according to Aurelio Peccei, the 
Italian economist and industrialist, combined research 
and development expenditures in the United States 
and Europe will run to $73 billion per year. This level 
of expense adds up to three-quarters of a trillion dol- 
lars per decade. With such large sums at stake, one 
would think that governments would plan their tech- 
nological development carefully, relating it to broad 
social goals, and insisting on strict accountability. 
Nothing could be more mistaken. 

“No one— not even the most brilliant scientist alive 
today— really knows where science is taking us,” says 
Ralph Lapp, himself a scientist-tumed-writer. “We 
are aboard a train which is gathering speed, racing 
down a track on which there are an unknown number 
of switches leading to unknown destinations. No single 
scientist is in the engine cab and there may be demons 
at the switch. Most of society is in the caboose look- 
ing backward.” 


Strategies for Survival 

It is hardly reassuring to learn that when the Orga- 
nization for Economic Cooperation and Development 
issued its massive report on science in the United 
States, one of its authors, a former premier of Belgium, 
confessed: “We came to the conclusion that we were 
looking for something . . . which was not there: a 
science policy.” The committee could have looked even 
harder, and with still less success, for anything resem- 
bling a conscious technological policy. 

Radicals frequently accuse the “ruling class” or the 
“establishment” or simply “they” of controlling society 
in ways inimical to the welfare of the masses. Such 
accusations may have occasional point. Yet today we 
face an even more dangerous reality: many social ills 
are less the consequence of oppressive control than of 
oppressive lack of control. The horrifying truth is that, 
so far as much technology is concerned, no one is in 


So long as an industrializing nation is poor, it tends to 
welcome without argument any technical innovation 
that promises to improve economic output or material 
welfare. This is, in fact, a tacit technological policy, 
and it can make for extremely rapid economic growth. 
It is, however, a brutally unsophisticated policy, and 
as a result all kinds of new machines and processes 
are spewed into the society without regard for their 
secondary or long-range effects. 

Once the society begins its take-off for super-indus- 
trialism, this “anything goes” policy becomes wholly 
and hazardously inadequate. Apart from the increased 
power and scope of technology, the options multiply 
as well. Advanced technology helps create overchoice 
with respect to available goods, cultural products, 
services, subcults and life styles. At the same time 
overchoice comes to characterize technology itself. 

Increasingly diverse innovations are arrayed before 

Taming Technology 433 

the society and the problems of selection grow more 
and more acute. The old simple policy, by which 
choices were made according to short-run economic 
advantage, proves dangerous, confusing, destabilizing. 

Today we need far more sophisticated criteria for 
choosing among technologies. We need such policy 
criteria not only to stave off avoidable disasters, but 
to help us discover tomorrow’s opportunities. Faced 
for the first time with technological overchoice, the 
society must now select its machines, processes, tech- 
niques and systems in groups and clusters, instead of 
one at a time. It must choose the way an individual 
chooses his life style. It must make super-decisions 
about its future. 

Furthermore, just as an individual can exercise con- 
scious choice among alternative life styles, a society 
today can consciously choose among alternative cul- 
tural styles. This is a new fact in history. In the past, 
culture emerged without premeditation. Today, for 
the first time, we can raise the process to awareness. 
By the application of conscious technological policy— 
along with other measures— we can contour the culture 
of tomorrow. 

In their book, The Year 2000, Herman Kahn and 
Anthony Wiener list one hundred technical innova- 
tions “very likely in the last third of the twentieth 
century.” These range from multiple applications of 
the laser to new materials, new power sources, new 
airborne and submarine vehicles, three-dimensional 
photography, and “human hibernation” for medical 
purposes. Similar lists are to be found elsewhere as 
well. In transportation, in communications, in every 
conceivable field and some that are almost incon- 
ceivable, we face an inundation of innovation. In 
consequence, the complexities of choice are stagger- 

This is well illustrated by new inventions or dis- 
coveries that bear directly on the issue of man’s 

434 Strategies for Survival 

adaptability. A case in point is the so-called OLIVER 0 
that some computer experts are striving to develop to 
help us deal with decision overload. In its simplest 
form, OLIVER would merely be a personal computer 
programmed to provide the individual with informa- 
tion and to make minor decisions for him. At this level, 
it could store information about his friends’ prefer- 
ences for Manhattans or martinis, data about traffic 
routes, the weather, stock prices, etc. The device could 
be set to remind him of his wife’s birthday— or to 
order flowers automatically. It could renew his maga- 
zine subscriptions, pay the rent on time, order razor 
blades and the like. 

As computerized information systems ramify, more- 
over, it would tap into a worldwide pool of data 
stored in libraries, corporate files, hospitals, retail 
stores, banks, government agencies and universities. 
OLIVER would thus become a kind of universal 
question-answerer for him. 

However, some computer scientists see much be- 
yond this. It is theoretically possible to construct an 
OLIVER that would analyze the content of its owner’s 
words, scrutinize his choices, deduce his value system, 
update its own program to reflect changes in his 
values, and ultimately handle larger and larger deci- 
sions for him. 

Thus OLIVER would know how its owner would, 
in all likelihood, react to various suggestions made at 
a committee meeting. (Meetings could take place 
among groups of OLIVERS representing their respec- 
tive owners, without the owners themselves being 
present. Indeed, some “computer-mediated” confer- 
ences of this type have already been held by the 
experimenters. ) 

OLIVER would know, for example, whether its 
owner would vote for candidate X, whether he would 

* On-Line Interactive Vicarious Expediter and Responder. 
The acronym was chosen to honor Oliver Selfridge, originator 
of the concept. 

Taming Technology 435 

contribute to charity Y, whether he would accept a 
dinner invitation from Z. In the words of one OLIVER 
enthusiast, a computer- trained psychologist: “If you 
are an impolite boor, OLIVER will know and act 
accordingly. If you are a marital cheater, OLIVER 
will know and help. For OLIVER will be nothing less 
than your mechanical alter ego.” Pushed to the ex- 
tremes of science fiction, one can even imagine pin- 
size OLIVERs implanted in baby brains, and used, 
in combination with cloning, to create living— not just 
mechanical— alter egos. 

Another technological advance that could enlarge 
the adaptive range of the individual pertains to hu- 
man IQ. Widely reported experiments in the United 
States, Sweden and elsewhere, strongly suggest that 
we may, within the foreseeable future, be able to 
augment man’s intelligence and informational han- 
dling abilities. Research in biochemistry and nutrition 
indicate that protein, RNA and other manipulable 
properties are, in some still obscure way, correlated 
with memory and learning. A large-scale effort to crack 
the intelligence barrier could pay off in fantastic im- 
provement of man’s adaptability. 

It may be that the historic moment is right for such 
amplifications of humanness, for a leap to a new super- 
human organism. But what are the consequences and 
alternatives? Do we want a world peopled with 
OLIVERs? When? Under what terms and conditions? 
Who should have access to them? Who should not? 
Should biochemical treatments be used to raise mental 
defectives to the level of normals, should they be 
used to raise the average, or should we concentrate 
on trying to breed super-geniuses? 

In quite different fields, similar complex choices 
abound. Should we throw our resources behind a crash 
effort to achieve low-cost nuclear energy? Or should 
a comparable effort be mounted to determine the bio- 
chemical basis of aggression? Should we spend billions 
of dollars on a supersonic jet transport— or should 
these funds be deployed in the development of arti- 

436 Strategies for Survival 

ficial hearts? Should we tinker with the human gene? 
Or should we, as some quite seriously propose, flood 
the interior of Brazil to create an inland ocean the size 
of East and West Germany combined? We will soon, 
no doubt, be able to put super-LSD or an anti-aggres- 
sion additive or some Huxleyian soma into our break- 
fast foods. We will soon be able to settle colonists on 
the planets and plant pleasure probes in the skulls of 
our newborn infants. But should we? Who is to de- 
cide? By what human criteria should such decisions 
be taken? 

It is clear that a society which opts for OLIVER, 
nuclear energy, supersonic transports, macroengineer- 
ing on a continental scale, along with LSD and 
pleasure probes, will develop a culture dramatically 
different from the one that chooses, instead, to raise 
intelligence, diffuse anti-aggression drugs and provide 
low-cost artificial hearts. 

Sharp differences would quickly emerge between 
the society that presses technological advance selec- 
tively, and that which blindly snatches at the first 
opportunity that comes along. Even sharper differ- 
ences would develop between the society in which 
the pace of technological advance is moderated and 
guided to prevent future shock, and that in which 
masses of ordinary people are incapacitated for ra- 
tional decision-making. In one, political democracy 
and broad-scale participation are feasible; in the other 
powerful pressures lead toward political rule by a tiny 
techno-managerial elite. Our choice of technologies, 
in short, will decisively shape the cultural styles of 
the future. 

This is why technological questions can no longer 
be answered in technological terms alone. They are 
political questions. Indeed, they affect us more deeply 
than most of the superficial political issues that occupy 
us today. This is why we cannot continue to make 
technological decisions in the old way. We cannot 
permit them to be made haphazardly, independently 
of one another. We cannot permit them to be dictated 

Taming Technology 437 

by short-run economic considerations alone. We can- 
not permit them to be made in a policy vacuum. And 
we cannot casually delegate responsibility for such 
decisions to businessmen, scientists, engineers or ad- 
ministrators who are unaware of the profound conse- 
quences of their own actions. 


To capture control of technology, and through it gain 
some influence over the accelerative thrust in general, 
we must, therefore, begin to submit new technology to 
a set of demanding tests before we unleash it in our 
midst. We must ask a whole series of unaccustomed 
questions about any innovation before giving it a 
clean bill of sale. 

First, bitter experience should have taught us by 
now to look far more carefully at the potential physi- 
cal side effects of any new technology. Whether we 
are proposing a new form of power, a new material, 
or a new industrial chemical, we must attempt to 
determine how it will alter the delicate ecological 
balance upon which we depend for survival. More- 
over, we must anticipate its indirect effects over great 
distances in both time and space. Industrial waste 
dumped into a river can turn up hundreds, even 
thousands of miles away in the ocean. DDT may not 
show its effects until years after its use. So much has 
been written about this that it seems hardly necessary 
to belabor the point further. 

Second, and much more complex, we must question 
the long-term impact of a technical innovation on the 
social, cultural and psychological environment. The au- 
tomobile is widely believed to have changed the shape 
of our cities, shifted home ownership and retail trade 
patterns, altered sexual customs and loosened family 
ties. In the Middle East, the rapid spread of transistor 
radios is credited with having contributed to the re- 
surgence of Arab nationalism. The birth control pill, 

438 Strategies for Survival 

the computer, the space effort, as well as the invention 
and diffusion of such “soft” technologies as systems 
analysis, all have carried significant social changes in 
their wake. 

We can no longer afford to let such secondary social 
and cultural effects just “happen.” We must attempt 
to anticipate them in advance, estimating, to the 
degree possible, their nature, strength and timing. 
Where these effects are likely to be seriously damag- 
ing, we must also be prepared to block the new 
technology. It is as simple as that. Technology cannot 
be permitted to rampage through the society. 

It is quite true that we can never know all the 
effects of any action, technological or otherwise. But 
it is not true that we are helpless. It is, for example, 
sometimes possible to test new technology in limited 
areas, among limited groups, studying its secondary 
impacts before releasing it for diffusion. We could, if 
we were imaginative, devise living experiments, even 
volunteer communities, to help guide our technologi- 
cal decisions. Just as we may wish to create enclaves 
of the past where the rate of change is artificially 
slowed, or enclaves of the future in which individuals 
can pre-sample future environments, we may also wish 
to set aside, even subsidize, special high-novelty com- 
munities in which advanced drugs, power sources, 
vehicles, cosmetics, appliances and other innovations 
are experimentally used and investigated. 

A corporation today will routinely field test a 
product to make sure it performs its primary function. 
The same company will market test the product to 
ascertain whether it will sell. But, with rare exception, 
no one post-checks the consumer or the community to 
determine what the human side effects have been. 
Survival in the future may depend on our learning to 
do so. 

Even when life-testing proves unfeasible, it is still 
possible for us systematically to anticipate the distant 
effects of various technologies. Behavioral scientists 
are rapidly developing new tools, from mathematical 

Taming Technology 439 

modeling and simulation to so-called Delphi analyses, 
that permit us to make more informed judgments 
about the consequences of our actions. We are piecing 
together the conceptual hardware needed for the 
social evaluation of technology; we need but to make 
use of it. 

Third, an even more difficult and pointed question: 
Apart from actual changes in the social structure, how 
will a proposed new technology affect the value sys- 
tem of the society? We know little about value struc- 
tures and how they change, but there is reason to 
believe that they, too, are heavily impacted by tech- 
nology. Elsewhere I have proposed that we develop 
a new profession of “value impact forecasters”— men 
and women trained to use the most advanced behav- 
ioral science techniques to appraise the value implica- 
tions of proposed technology. 

At the University of Pittsburgh in 1967 a group of 
distinguished economists, scientists, architects, plan- 
ners, writers, and philosophers engaged in a day-long 
simulation intended to advance the art of value fore- 
casting. At Harvard, the Program on Technology and 
Society has undertaken work relevant to this field. At 
Cornell and at the Institute for the Study of Science 
in Human Affairs at Columbia, an attempt is being 
made to build a model of the relationship between 
technology and values, and to design a game useful 
in analyzing the impact of one on the other. All these 
initiatives, while still extremely primitive, give prom- 
ise of helping us assess new technology more sensitive- 
ly than ever before. 

Fourth and finally, we must pose a question that 
until now has almost never been investigated, and 
which is, nevertheless, absolutely crucial if we are to 
prevent widespread future shock. For each major 
technological innovation we must ask: What are its 
accelerative implications? 

The problems of adaptation already far transcend 
the difficulties of coping with this or that invention or 
technique. Our problem is no longer the innovation, 


Strategies for Survival 

but the chain of innovations, not the supersonic trans- 
port, or the breeder reactor, or the ground effect 
machine, but entire inter-linked sequences of such 
innovations and the novelty they send flooding into 
the society. 

Does a proposed innovation help us control the rate 
and direction of subsequent advance? Or does it tend 
to accelerate a host of processes over which we have 
no control? How does it affect the level of transience, 
the novelty ratio, and the diversity of choice? Until we 
systematically probe these questions, our attempts to 
harness technology to social ends— and to gain control 
of the accelerative thrust in general— will prove feeble 
and futile. 

Here, then, is a pressing intellectual agenda for the 
social and physical sciences. We have taught ourselves 
to create and combine the most powerful of technolo- 
gies. We have not taken pains to learn about their 
consequences. Today these consequences threaten to 
destroy us. We must learn, and learn fast. 


The challenge, however, is not solely intellectual; it 
is political as well. In addition to designing new re- 
search tools— new ways to understand our environment 
—we must also design creative new political institu- 
tions for guaranteeing that these questions are, in 
fact, investigated; and for promoting or discouraging 
(perhaps even banning) certain proposed technol- 
ogies. We need, in effect, a machinery for screening 

A key political task of the next decade will be to 
create this machinery. We must stop being afraid to 
exert systematic social control over technology. Re- 
sponsibility for doing so must be shared by public 
agencies and the corporations and laboratories in 
which technological innovations are hatched. 

Any suggestion for control over technology immedi- 

Taming Technology 441 

ately raises scientific eyebrows. The specter of ham- 
handed governmental interference is invoked. Yet 
controls over technology need not imply limitations 
on the freedom to conduct research. What is at issue 
is not discovery but diffusion, not invention but appli- 
cation. Ironically, as sociologist Amitai Etzioni points 
out, “many liberals who have fully accepted Keynesian 
economic controls take a laissez-faire view of technol- 
ogy. Theirs are the arguments once used to defend 
laissez-faire economics: that any attempt to control 
technology would stifle innovation and initiative.” 

Warnings about overcontrol ought not be lightly 
ignored. Yet the consequences of lack of control may 
be far worse. In point of fact, science and technology 
are never free in any absolute sense. Inventions and 
the rate at which they are applied are both influenced 
by the values and institutions of the society that gives 
rise to them. Every society, in effect, does pre-screen 
technical innovations before putting them to wide- 
spread use. 

The haphazard way in which this is done today, 
however, and the criteria on which selection is based, 
need to be changed. In the West, the basic criterion 
for filtering out certain technical innovations and ap- 
plying others remains economic profitability. In com- 
munist countries, the ultimate tests have to do with 
whether the innovation will contribute to overall eco- 
nomic growth and national power. In the former, 
decisions are private and pluralistically decentralized. 
In the latter, they are public and tightly centralized. 

Both systems are now obsolete— incapable of dealing 
with the complexity of super-industrial society. Both 
tend to ignore all but the most immediate and obvious 
consequences of technology. Yet, increasingly, it is 
these non-immediate and non-obvious impacts that 
must concern us. “Society must so organize itself that 
a proportion of the very ablest and most imaginative 
of scientists are continually concerned with trying to 
foresee the long-term effects of new technology,” 
writes O. M. Solandt, chairman of the Science Council 

442 Strategies for Survival 

of Canada. “Our present method of depending on the 
alertness of individuals to foresee danger and to form 
pressure groups that try to correct mistakes will not 
do for the future.” 

One step in the right direction would be to create 
a technological ombudsman— a public agency charged 
with receiving, investigating, and acting on complaints 
having to do with the irresponsible application of 

Who should be responsible for correcting the ad- 
verse effects of technology? The rapid diffusion of 
detergents used in home washing machines and dish- 
washers intensified water purification problems all 
over the United States. The decisions to launch deter- 
gents on the society were privately taken, but the side 
effects have resulted in costs borne by the taxpayer 
and (in the form of lower water quality) by the con- 
sumer at large. 

The costs of air pollution are similarly borne by 
taxpayer and community even though, as is often the 
case, the sources of pollution are traceable to individ- 
ual companies, industries or government installations. 
Perhaps it is sensible for de-pollution costs to be 
borne by the public as a form of social overhead, rath- 
er than by specific industries. There are many ways 
to allocate the cost. But whichever way we choose, it 
is absolutely vital that the lines of responsibility are 
made clear. Too often no agency, group or institution 
has clear responsibility. 

A technology ombudsman could serve as an official 
sounding board for complaints. By calling press atten- 
tion to companies or government agencies that have 
applied new technology irresponsibly or without ade- 
quate forethought, such an agency could exert pres- 
sure for more intelligent use of new technology. Armed 
with the power to initiate damage suits where neces- 
sary, it could become a significant deterrent to tech- 
nological irresponsibility. 

Taming Technology 



But simply investigating and apportioning responsi- 
bility after the fact is hardly sufficient. We must 
create an environmental screen to protect ourselves 
against dangerous intrusions as well as a system of 
public incentives to encourage technology that is both 
safe and socially desirable. This means governmental 
and private machinery for reviewing major technologi- 
cal advances before they are launched upon the public. 

Corporations might be expected to set up their own 
"consequence analysis staffs” to study the potential 
effects of the innovations they sponsor. They might, in 
some cases, be required not merely to test new tech- 
nology in pilot areas but to make a public report about 
its impact before being permitted to spread the inno- 
vation through the society at large. Much responsibil- 
ity should be delegated to industry itself. The less 
centralized the controls the better. If self-policing 
works, it is preferable to external, political controls. 

Where self-regulation fails, however, as it often 
does, public intervention may well be necessary, and 
we should not evade the responsibility. In the United 
States, Congressman Emilio Q. Daddario, chairman of 
the House Subcommittee on Science, Research and 
Development, has proposed the establishment of a 
Technology Assessment Board within the federal gov- 
ernment. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, 
the National Academy of Engineering, the Legislative 
Reference Service of the Library of Congress, and by 
the science and technology program of the George 
Washington University are all aimed at defining the 
appropriate nature of such an agency. We may wish 
to debate its form; its need is beyond dispute. 

The society might also set certain general principles 
for technological advance. Where the introduction of 
an innovation entails undue risk, for example, it might 
require that funds be set aside by the responsible 


Strategies for Survival 

agency for correction of adverse effects should they 
materialize. We might also create a “technological in- 
surance pool” to which innovation-diffusing agencies 
might pay premiums. 

Certain large-scale ecological interventions might 
be delayed or prohibited altogether— perhaps in line 
with the principle that if an incursion on nature is 
too big and sudden for its effects to be monitored and 
possibly corrected, it should not take place. For ex- 
ample, it has been suggested that the Aswan Dam, far 
from helping Egyptian agriculture, might someday 
lead to salinization of the land on both banks of the 
Nile. This could prove disastrous. But such a process 
would not occur overnight. Presumably, therefore, it 
can be monitored and prevented. By contrast, the plan 
to flood the entire interior of Brazil is fraught with 
such instant and imponderable ecological effects that 
it should not be permitted at all until adequate moni- 
toring can be done and emergency corrective measures 
are available. 

At the level of social consequences, a new technol- 
ogy might be submitted for clearance to panels of 
behavioral scientists— psychologists, sociologists, econ- 
omists, political scientists— who would determine, to 
the best of their ability, the probable strength of its 
social impact at different points in time. Where an 
innovation appears likely to entail seriously disruptive 
consequences, or to generate unrestrained accelerative 
pressures, these facts need to be weighed in a social 
cost-benefit accounting procedure. In the case of some 
high-impact innovations, the technological appraisal 
agency might be empowered to seek restraining legis- 
lation, or to obtain an injunction forcing delay until 
full public discussion and study is completed. In other 
cases, such innovations might still be released for 
diffusion— provided ample steps were taken in advance 
to offset their negative consequences. In this way, the 
society would not need to wait for disaster before 
dealing with its technology-induced problems. 

By considering not merely specific technologies, 

Taming Technology 445 

but their relationship to one another, the time lapse 
between them, the proposed speed of diffusion, and 
similar factors, we might eventually gain some con- 
trol over the pace of change as well as its direction. 

Needless to say, these proposals are themselves 
fraught with explosive social consequences, and need 
careful assessment. There may be far better ways to 
achieve the desired ends. But the time is late. We 
simply can no longer afford to hurtle blindfolded 
toward super-industrialism. The politics of technology 
control will trigger bitter conflict in the days to come. 
But conflict or no, technology must be tamed, if the 
accelerative thrust is to be brought under control. And 
the accelerative thrust must be brought under control, 
if future shock is to be prevented. 

Chapter 20 


Can one live in a society that is out of control? That 
is the question posed for us by the concept of future 
shock. For that is the situation we find ourselves in. 
If it were technology alone that had broken loose, our 
problems would be serious enough. The deadly fact is, 
however, that many other social processes have also 
begun to run free, oscillating wildly, resisting our best 
efforts to guide them. 

Urbanization, ethnic conflict, migration, population, 
crime— a thousand examples spring to mind of fields 
in which our efforts to shape change seem increasingly 
inept and futile. Some of these are strongly related to 
the breakaway of technology; others partially inde- 
pendent of it. The uneven, rocketing rates of change, 
the shifts and jerks in direction, compel us to ask 
whether the techno-societies, even comparatively small 
ones like Sweden and Belgium, have grown too com- 
plex, too fast to manage? 

How can we prevent mass future shock, selectively 
adjusting the tempos of change, raising or lowering 
levels of stimulation, when governments— including 
those with the best intentions— seem unable even to 
point change in the right direction? 

Thus a leading American urbanologist writes with 
unconcealed disgust: “At a cost of more than three 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 447 

billion dollars, the Urban Renewal Agency has suc- 
ceeded in materially reducing the supply of low cost 
housing in American cities.” Similar debacles could 
be cited in a dozen fields. Why do welfare programs 
today often cripple rather than help their clients? Why 
do college students, supposedly a pampered elite, riot 
and rebel? Why do expressways add to traffic conges- 
tion rather than reduce it? In short, why do so many 
well-intentioned liberal programs turn rancid so rapid- 
ly, producing side effects that cancel out their central 
effects? No wonder Raymond Fletcher, a frustrated 
Member of Parliament in Britain, recently com- 
plained: “Society’s gone random!” 

If random means a literal absence of pattern, he is, 
of course, overstating the case. But if random means 
that the outcomes of social policy have become erratic 
and hard to predict, he is right on target. Here, then, 
is the political meaning of future shock. For just as 
individual future shock results from an inability to 
keep pace with the rate of change, governments, too, 
suffer from a kind of collective future shock— a break- 
down of their decisional processes. 

With chilling clarity, Sir Geoffrey Vickers, the emi- 
nent British social scientist, has identified the issue: 
“The rate of change increases at an accelerating speed, 
without a corresponding acceleration in the rate at 
which further responses can be made; and this brings 
us nearer the threshold beyond which control is lost.” 


What we are witnessing is the beginning of the final 
breakup of industrialism and, with it, the collapse of 
technocratic planning. By technocratic planning, I do 
not mean only the centralized national planning that 
has, until recently, characterized the USSR, but also 
the less formal, more dispersed attempts at systematic 
change management that occur in all the high tech- 
nology nations, regardless of their political persuasion. 


Strategies for Survival 

Michael Harrington, the socialist critic, arguing that 
we have rejected planning, has termed ours the “ac- 
cidental century.” Yet, as Galbraith demonstrates, even 
within the context of a capitalist economy, the great 
corporations go to enormous lengths to rationalize 
production and distribution, to plan their future as 
best they can. Governments, too, are deep into the 
planning business. The Keynesian manipulation of 
post-war economies may be inadequate, but it is not 
a matter of accident. In France, Le Plan has become 
a regular feature of national life. In Sweden, Italy, 
Germany and Japan, governments actively intervene in 
the economic sector to protect certain industries, to 
capitalize others, and to accelerate growth. In the 
United States and Britain, even local governments 
come equipped with what are at least called planning 

Why, therefore, despite all these efforts, should the 
system be spinning out of control? The problem is not 
simply that we plan too little; we also plan too poorly. 
Part of the trouble can be traced to the very premises 
implicit in our planning. 

First, technocratic planning, itself a product of in- 
dustrialism, reflects the values of that fast-vanishing 
era. In both its capitalist and communist variants, in- 
dustrialism was a system focused on the maximization 
of material welfare. Thus, for the technocrat, in De- 
troit as well as Kiev, economic advance is the primary 
aim; technology the primary tool. The fact that in one 
case the advance redounds to private advantage and 
in the other, theoretically, to the public good, does not 
alter the core assumptions common to both. Techno- 
cratic planning is econocentric. 

Second, technocratic planning reflects the time-bias 
of industrialism. Struggling to free itself from the 
stifling past-orientation of previous societies, indus- 
trialism focused heavily on the present. This meant, 
in practice, that its planning dealt with futures near 
at hand. The idea of a five-year plan struck the world 
as insanely futuristic when it was first put forward by 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 449 

the Soviets in the 1920’s. Even today, except in the 
most advanced organizations on both sides of the 
ideological curtain, one- or two-year forecasts are 
regarded as “long-range planning.” A handful of cor- 
porations and government agencies, as we shall see, 
have begun to concern themselves with horizons ten, 
twenty, even fifty years in the future. The majority, 
however, remain blindly biased toward next Monday. 
Technocratic planning is short-range. 

Third, reflecting the bureaucratic organization of 
industrialism, technocratic planning was premised on 
hierarchy. The world was divided into manager and 
worker, planner and plannee, with decisions made by 
one for the other. This system, adequate while change 
unfolds at an industrial tempo, breaks down as the 
pace reaches super-industrial speeds. The increasingly 
unstable environment demands more and more non- 
programmed decisions down below; the need for in- 
stant feedback blurs the distinction between line and 
staff; and hierarchy totters. Planners are too remote, 
too ignorant of local conditions, too slow in responding 
to change. As suspicion spreads that top-down controls 
are unworkable, plannees begin clamoring for the 
right to participate in the decision-making. Planners, 
however, resist. For like the bureaucratic system it 
mirrors, technocratic planning is essentially undemo- 

The forces sweeping us toward super-industrialism 
can no longer be channeled by these bankrupt indus- 
trial-era methods. For a time they may continue to 
work in backward, slowly moving industries or com- 
munities. But their misapplication in advanced indus- 
tries, in universities, in cites— wherever change is swift 
—cannot but intensify the instability, leading to wilder 
and wilder swings and lurches. Moreover, as the evi- 
dences of failure pile up, dangerous political, cultural 
and psychological currents are set loose. 

One response to the loss of control, for example, is 
a revulsion against intelligence. Science first gave man 
a sense of mastery over his environment, and hence 


Strategies for Survival 

over the future. By making the future seem malleable, 
instead of immutable, it shattered the opiate religions 
that preached passivity and mysticism. Today, mount- 
ing evidence that society is out of control breeds dis- 
illusionment with science. In consequence, we witness 
a garish revival of mysticism. Suddenly astrology is the 
rage. Zen, yoga, seances, and witchcraft become popu- 
lar pastimes. Cults form around the search for Dionys- 
ian experience, for non-verbal and supposedly non- 
linear communication. We are told it is more important 
to “feel” than to “think,” as though there were a contra- 
diction between the two. Existentialist oracles join 
Catholic mystics, Jungian psychoanalysts, and Hindu 
gurus in exalting the mystical and emotional against 
the scientific and rational. 

This reversion to pre-scientific attitudes is accompa- 
nied, not surprisingly, by a tremendous wave of nostal- 
gia in the society. Antique furniture, posters from a 
bygone era, games based on the remembrance of 
yesterday’s trivia, the revival of Art Nouveau, the 
spread of Edwardian styles, the rediscovery of such 
faded pop-cult celebrities as Humphrey Bogart or 
W. C. Fields, all mirror a psychological lust for the 
simpler, less turbulent past. Powerful fad machines 
spring into action to capitalize on this hunger. The 
nostalgia business becomes a booming industry. 

The failure of technocratic planning and the con- 
sequent sense of lost control also feeds the philosophy 
of “now-ness.” Songs and advertisements hail the ap- 
pearance of the “now generation,” and learned psy- 
chiatrists, discoursing on the presumed dangers of 
repression, warn us not to defer our gratifications. 
Acting out and a search for immediate payoff are 
encouraged. “We’re more oriented to the present,” says 
a teen-age girl to a reporter after the mammoth Wood- 
stock rock music festival. “It’s like do what you want 
to do now. ... If you stay anywhere very long you 
get into a planning thing. ... So you just move on.” 
Spontaneity, the personal equivalent of social plan- 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 451 

lessness, is elevated into a cardinal psychological vir- 

All this has its political analog in the emergence of 
a strange coalition of right wingers and New Leftists 
in support of what can only be termed a “hang loose” 
approach to the future. Thus we hear increasing calls 
for anti-planning or non-planning, sometimes euphe- 
mized as “organic growth.” Among some radicals, 
this takes on an anarchist coloration. Not only is it 
regarded as unnecessary or unwise to make long- 
range plans for the future of the institution or society 
they wish to overturn, it is sometimes even regarded 
as poor taste to plan the next hour and a half of a 
meeting. Planlessness is glorified. 

Arguing that planning imposes values on the 
future, the anti-planners overlook the fact that non- 
planning does so, too— often with far worse conse- 
quence. Angered by the narrow, econocentric charac- 
ter of technocratic planning, they condemn systems 
analysis, cost benefit accounting, and similar methods, 
ignoring the fact that, used differently, these very 
tools might be converted into powerful techniques 
for humanizing the future. 

When critics charge that technocratic planning is 
anti-human, in the sense that it neglects social, cul- 
tural and psychological values in its headlong rush 
to maximize economic gain, they are usually right. 
When they charge that it is shortsighted and un- 
democratic, they are usually right. When they charge 
it is inept, they are usually right. 

But when they plunge backward into irrationality, 
anti-scientific attitudes, a kind of sick nostalgia, and 
an exaltation of now-ness, they are not only wrong, 
but dangerous. Just as, in the main, their alternatives 
to industrialism call for a return to pre-industrial in- 
stitutions, their alternative to technocracy is not post-, 
but pre-technocracy. 

Nothing could be more dangerously maladaptive. 
Whatever the theoretical arguments may be, brute 
forces are loose in the world. Whether we wish to 


Strategies for Survival 

prevent future shock or control population, to check 
pollution or defuse the arms race, we cannot permit 
decisions of earth-jolting importance to be taken 
heedlessly, witlessly, planlessly. To hang loose is to 
commit collective suicide. 

We need not a reversion to the irrationalisms of 
the past, not a passive acceptance of change, not 
despair or nihilism. We need, instead, a strong new 
strategy. For reasons that will become clear, I term 
this strategy “social futurism.” I am convinced that, 
armed with this strategy, we can arrive at a new 
level of competence in the management of change. 
We can invent a form of planning more humane, 
more far-sighted, and more democratic than any so 
far in use. In short, we can transcend technocracy. 


Technocrats suffer from econo-think. Except during 
war and dire emergency, they start from the premise 
that even non-economic problems can be solved with 
economic remedies. 

Social futurism challenges this root assumption of 
both Marxist and Keynesian managers. In its histor- 
ical time and place, industrial society’s single-minded 
pursuit of material progress served the human race 
well. As we hurtle toward super-industrialism, how- 
ever, a new ethos emerges in which other goals begin 
to gain parity with, and even supplant those of eco- 
nomic welfare. In personal terms, self-fulfillment, 
social responsibility, aesthetic achievement, hedonistic 
individualism, and an array of other goals vie with 
and often overshadow the raw drive for material 
success. Affluence serves as a base from which men 
begin to strive for varied post-economic ends. 

At the same time, in societies arrowing toward 
super-industrialism, economic variables— wages, bal- 
ance of payments, productivity— grow increasingly 
sensitive to changes in the non-economic environ- 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 453 

ment. Economic problems are plentiful, but a whole 
range of issues that are only secondarily economic 
break into prominence. Racism, the battle between 
the generations, crime, cultural autonomy, violence- 
all these have economic dimensions; yet none can 
be effectively treated by econocentric measures alone. 

The move from manufacturing to service produc- 
tion, the psychologization of both goods and services, 
and ultimately the shift toward experiential produc- 
tion all tie the economic sector much more tightly to 
non-economic forces. Consumer preferences turn over 
in accordance with rapid life style changes, so that 
the coming and going of subcults is mirrored in 
economic turmoil. Super-industrial production re- 
quires workers skilled in symbol manipulation, so 
that what goes on in their heads becomes much more 
important than in the past, and much more depen- 
dent upon cultural factors. 

There is even evidence that the financial system 
is becoming more responsive to social and psycho- 
logical pressures. It is only in an affluent society on 
its way to super-industrialism that one witnesses the 
invention of new investment vehicles, such as mutual 
funds, that are consciously motivated or constrained 
by non-economic considerations. The Vanderbilt Mu- 
tual Fund and the Provident Fund refuse to invest 
in liquor or tobacco shares. The giant Mates Fund 
spurns the stock of any company engaged in muni- 
tions production, while the tiny Vantage 10/90 Fund 
invests part of its assets in industries working to 
alleviate food and population problems in developing 
nations. There are funds that invest only, or primarily, 
in racially integrated housing. The Ford Foundation 
and the Presbyterian Church both invest part of their 
sizeable portfolios in companies selected not for ec- 
onomic payout alone, but for their potential contribu- 
tion to solving urban problems. Such developments, 
still small in number, accurately signal the direction 
of change. 

In the meantime, major American corporations 


Strategies for Survival 

with fixed investments in urban centers, are being 
sucked, often despite themselves, into the roaring vor- 
tex of social change. Hundreds of companies are now 
involved in providing jobs for hard-core unemployed, 
in organizing literacy and job-training programs, and 
in scores of other unfamiliar activities. So important 
have these new involvements grown that the largest 
corporation in the world, the American Telephone 
and Telegraph Company, recently set up a Depart- 
ment of Environmental Affairs. A pioneering venture, 
this agency has been assigned a range of tasks that 
include worrying about air and water pollution, im- 
proving the aesthetic appearance of the company’s 
trucks and equipment, and fostering experimental pre- 
school learning programs in urban ghettos. None of 
this necessarily implies that big companies are grow- 
ing altruistic; it merely underscores the increasing in- 
timacy of the links between the economic sector and 
powerful cultural, psychological and social forces. 

While these forces batter at our doors, however, 
most technocratic planners and managers behave as 
though nothing had happened. They continue to act 
as though the economic sector were hermetically 
sealed off from social and psychocultural influences. 
Indeed, econocentric premises are buried so deeply 
and held so widely in both the capitalist and commu- 
nist nations, that they distort the very information 
systems essential for the management of change. 

For example, all modem nations maintain elabo- 
rate machinery for measuring economic performance. 
We know virtually day by day the directions of 
change with respect to productivity, prices, invest- 
ment, and similar factors. Through a set of “economic 
indicators” we gauge the overall health of the econo- 
my, the speed at which it is changing, and the over- 
all directions of change. Without these measures, our 
control of the economy would be far less effective. 

By contrast, we have no such measures, no set of 
comparable “social indicators” to tell us whether the 
society, as distinct from the economy, is also healthy. 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 455 

We have no measures of the “quality of life.” We have 
no systematic indices to tell us whether men are more 
or less alienated from one another; whether educa- 
tion is more effective; whether art, music and liter- 
ature are flourishing; whether civility, generosity or 
kindness are increasing. “Gross National Product is 
our Holy Grail,” writes Stewart Udall, former United 
States Secretary of the Interior, . . but we have no 
environmental index, no census statistics to measure 
whether the country is more livable from year to 

On the surface, this would seem a purely technical 
matter— something for statisticians to debate. Yet it 
has the most serious political significance, for lack- 
ing such measures it becomes difficult to connect up 
national or local policies with appropriate long-term 
social goals. The absence of such indices perpetuates 
vulgar technocracy. 

Little known to the public, a polite, but increasing- 
ly bitter battle over this issue has begun in Washing- 
ton. Technocratic planners and economists see in the 
social indicators idea a threat to their entrenched 
position at the ear of the political policy maker. In 
contrast, the need for social indicators has been elo- 
quently argued by such prominent social scientists 
as Bertram M. Gross of Wayne State University, 
Eleanor Sheldon and Wilbert Moore of the Russell 
Sage Foundation, Daniel Bell and Raymond Bauer of 
Harvard. We are witnessing, says Gross, a “wide- 
spread rebellion against what has been called the 
‘economic philistinism’ of the United States govern- 
ment’s present statistical establishment.” 

This revolt has attracted vigorous support from a 
small group of politicians and government officials 
who recognize our desperate need for a post-techno- 
cratic social intelligence system. These include Daniel 
P. Moynihan, a key White House adviser; Senators 
Walter Mondale of Minnesota and Fred Harris of 
Oklahoma; and several former Cabinet officers. In 
the near future, we can expect the same revolt to 

456 Strategies for Survival 

break out in other world capitals as well, once again 
drawing a line between technocrats and post-techno- 

The danger of future shock, itself, however, points 
to the need for new social measures not yet even 
mentioned in the fast-burgeoning literature on social 
indicators. We urgently need, for example, techniques 
for measuring the level of transience in different 
communities, different population groups, and in in- 
dividual experience. It is possible, in principle, to 
design a “transience index” that could disclose the 
rate at which we are making and breaking relation- 
ships with the things, places, people, organizations 
and informational structures that comprise our en- 

Such an index would reveal, among other things, 
the fantastic differences in the experiences of different 
groups in the society— the static and tedious quality of 
life for very large numbers of people, the frenetic 
turnover in the lives of others. Government policies 
that attempt to deal with both kinds of people in 
the same way are doomed to meet angry resistance 
from one or the other— or both. 

Similarly, we need indices of novelty in the environ- 
ment. How often do communities, organizations or 
individuals have to cope with first-time situations? 
How many of the articles in the home of the average 
working-class family are actually “new” in function 
or appearance; how many are traditional? What level 
of novelty— in terms of things, people or any other 
significant dimension— is required for stimulation 
without over-stimulation? How much more novelty 
can children absorb than their parents— if it is true 
that they can absorb more? In what way is aging re- 
lated to lower novelty tolerances, and how do such 
differences correlate with the political and intergen- 
erational conflict now tearing the techno-societies 
apart? By studying and measuring the invasion of 
newness, we can begin, perhaps, to control the influx 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 457 

of change into our social structures and personal 

And what about choice and overchoice? Can we 
construct measures of the degree of significant choice 
in human lives? Can any government that pretends 
to be democratic not concern itself with such an issue? 
For all the rhetoric about freedom of choice, no gov- 
ernment agency in the world can claim to have made 
any attempt to measure it. The assumption simply 
is that more income or affluence means more choice 
and that more choice, in turn, means freedom. Is it 
not time to examine these basic assumptions of our 
political systems? Post-technocratic planning must 
deal with precisely such issues, if we are to prevent 
future shock and build a humane super-industrial 

A sensitive system of indicators geared to measuring 
the achievement of social and cultural goals, and in- 
tegrated with economic indicators, is part of the 
technical equipment that any society needs before it 
can successfully reach the next stage of eco-techno- 
logical development. It is an absolute precondition 
for post-technocratic planning and change manage- 

This humanization of planning, moreover, must be 
reflected in our political structures as well. To con- 
nect the super-industrial social intelligence system with 
the decisional centers of society, we must institution- 
alize a concern for the quality of life. Thus Bertram 
Gross and others in the social indicators movement 
have proposed the creation of a Council of Social 
Advisers to the President. Such a Council, as they see 
it, would be modeled after the already existing Coun- 
cil of Economic Advisers and would perform parallel 
functions in the social field. The new agency would 
monitor key social indicators precisely the way the 
CEA keeps its eye on economic indices, and interpret 
changes to the President. It would issue an annual 
report on the quality of life, clearly spelling out our 
social progress (or lack of it) in terms of specified 


Strategies for Survival 

goals. This report would thus supplement and balance 
the annual economic report prepared by the CEA. By 
providing reliable, useful data about our social con- 
dition, the Council of Social Advisers would begin 
to influence planning generally, making it more sen- 
sitive to social costs and benefits, less coldly techno- 
cratic and econocentric.* 

The establishment of such councils, not merely at 
the federal level but at state and municipal levels 
as well, would not solve all our problems; it would 
not eliminate conflict; it would not guarantee that 
social indicators are exploited properly. In brief, it 
would not eliminate politics from political life. But it 
would lend recognition— and political force— to the 
idea that the aims of progress reach beyond econom- 
ics. The designation of agencies to watch over the 
indicators of change in the quality of life would carry 
us a long way toward that humanization of the plan- 
ner which is the essential first stage of the strategy of 
social futurism. 


Technocrats suffer from myopia. Their instinct is to 
think about immediate returns, immediate conse- 
quences. They are premature members of the now 

If a region needs electricity, they reach for a power 
plant. The fact that such a plant might sharply alter 
labor patterns, that within a decade it might throw 
men out of work, force large-scale retraining of work- 
ers, and swell the social welfare costs of a nearby city 
—such considerations are too remote in time to con- 
cern them. The fact that the plant could trigger 

* Proponents differ as to whether the Council of Social Ad- 
visers ought to be organizationally independent or become a 
part of a larger Council of Economic and Social Advisers. All 
sides agree, however, on the need for integrating economic and 
social intelligence. 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 459 

devastating ecological consequences a generation 
later simply does not register in their time frame. 

In a world of accelerant change, next year is nearer 
to us than next month was in a more leisurely era. 
This radically altered fact of life must be internalized 
by decision-makers in industry, government and else- 
where. Their time horizons must be extended. 

To plan for a more distant future does not mean to 
tie oneself to dogmatic programs. Plans can be ten- 
tative, fluid, subject to continual revision. Yet flexi- 
bility need not mean shortsightedness. To transcend 
technocracy, our social time horizons must reach dec- 
ades, even generations, into the future. This requires 
more than a lengthening of our formal plans. It means 
an infusion of the entire society, from top to bottom, 
with a new socially aware future-consciousness. 

One of the healthiest phenomena of recent years 
has been the sudden proliferation of organizations 
devoted to the study of the future. This recent devel- 
opment is, in itself, a homeostatic response of the 
society to the speed-up of change. Within a few years 
we have seen the creation of future-oriented think 
tanks like the Institute for the Future; the formation 
of academic study groups like the Commission on the 
Year 2000 and the Harvard Program on Technology 
and Society; the appearance of futurist journals in 
England, France, Italy, Germany and the United 
States; the spread of university courses in forecasting 
and related subjects; the convocation of international 
futurist meetings in Oslo, Berlin and Kyoto; the 
coalescence of groups like Futuribles, Europe 2000, 
Mankind 2000, the World Future Society. 

Futurist centers are to be found in West Berlin, in 
Prague, in London, in Moscow, Rome and Washing- 
ton, in Caracas, even in the remote jungles of Brazil at 
Belem and Belo Horizonte. Unlike conventional 
technocratic planners whose horizons usually ex- 
tend no further than a few years into tomorrow, these 
groups concern themselves with change fifteen, twen- 
ty-five, even fifty years in the future. 

460 Strategies for Survival 

Eveiy society faces not merely a succession of 
probable futures, but an array of possible futures, and 
a conflict over preferable futures. The management 
of change is the effort to convert certain possibles into 
probables, in pursuit of agreed-on preferables. De- 
termining the probable calls for a science of futurism. 
Delineating the possible calls for an art of futurism. 
Defining the preferable calls for a politics of futurism. 

The worldwide futurist movement today does not 
yet differentiate clearly among these functions. Its 
heavy emphasis is on the assessment of probabilities. 
Thus in many of these centers, economists, sociolo- 
gists, mathematicians, biologists, physicists, operations 
researchers and others invent and apply methods for 
forecasting future probabilities. At what date could 
aquaculture feed half the world’s population? What 
are the odds that electric cars will supplant gas- 
driven automobiles in the next fifteen years? How 
likely is a Sino-Soviet detente by 1980? What changes 
are most probable in leisure patterns, urban govern- 
ment, race relations? 

Stressing the interconnectedness of disparate events 
and trends, scientific futurists are also devoting in- 
creasing attention to the social consequences of tech- 
nology. The Institute for the Future is, among other 
things, investigating the probable social and cul- 
tural effects of advanced communications technology. 
The group at Harvard is concerned with social prob- 
lems likely to arise from bio-medical advances. Fu- 
turists in Brazil examine the probable outcomes of 
various economic development policies. 

The rationale for studying probable futures is com- 
pelling. It is impossible for an individual to live 
through a single working day without making thou- 
sands of assumptions about the probable future. The 
commuter who calls to say, “I’ll be home at six” bases 
his prediction on assumptions about the probability 
that the train will run on time. When mother sends 
Johnny to school, she tacitly assumes the school will 
be there when he arrives. Just as a pilot cannot steer 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 461 

a ship without projecting its course, we cannot steer 
our personal lives without continually making such 
assumptions, consciously or otherwise. 

Societies, too, construct an architecture of premises 
about tomorrow. Decision-makers in industry, govern- 
ment, politics, and other sectors of society could not 
function without them. In periods of turbulent 
change, however, these socially-shaped images of the 
probable future become less accurate. The break- 
down of control in society today is directly linked to 
our inadequate images of probable futures. 

Of course, no one can “know” the future in any ab- 
solute sense. We can only systematize and deepen our 
assumptions and attempt to assign probabilities to 
them. Even this is difficult. Attempts to forecast the 
future inevitably alter it. Similarly, once a forecast 
is disseminated, the act of dissemination (as distinct 
from investigation) also produces a perturbation. 
Forecasts tend to become self-fulfilling or self-defeat- 
ing. As the time horizon is extended into the more 
distant future, we are forced to rely on informed 
hunch and guesswork. Moreover, certain unique 
events— assassinations, for example— are, for all intents 
and purposes, unpredictable at present (although we 
can forecast classes of such events ) . 

Despite all this, it is time to erase, once and for all, 
the popular myth that the future is “unknowable.” 
The difficulties ought to chasten and challenge, not 
paralyze. William F. Ogburn, one of the world’s 
great students of social change, once wrote: “We 
should admit into our thinking the idea of approxi- 
mations, that is, that there are varying degrees of ac- 
curacy and inaccuracy of estimate.” A rough idea of 
what lies ahead is better than none, he went on, and 
for many purposes extreme accuracy is wholly un- 

We are not, therefore, as helpless in dealing with 
future probabilities as most people assume. The Brit- 
ish social scientist Donald G. MacRae correctly as- 
serts that “modern sociologists can in fact make a 

462 Strategies for Survival 

large number of comparatively short term and limited 
predictions with a good deal of assurance.” Apart 
from the standard methods of social science, however, 
we are experimenting with potentially powerful new 
tools for probing the future. These range from com- 
plex ways of extrapolating existing trends, to the con- 
struction of highly intricate models, games and 
simulations, the preparation of detailed speculative 
scenarios, the systematic study of history for relevant 
analogies, morphological research, relevance analysis, 
contextual mapping and the like. In a comprehensive 
investigation of technological forecasting, Dr. Erich 
Jantsch, formerly a consultant to the OECD and a 
research associate at MIT, has identified scores of 
distinct new techniques either in use or in the experi- 
mental stage. 

The Institute for the Future in Middletown, Con- 
necticut, a prototype of the futurist think tank, is a 
leader in the design of new forecasting tools. One of 
these is Delphi— a method largely developed by Dr. 
Olaf Helmer, the mathematician-philosopher who is 
one of the founders of the IFF. Delphi attempts to 
deal with very distant futures by making systematic 
use of the “intuitive” guesstimates of large numbers of 
experts. The work on Delphi has led to a further in- 
novation which has special importance in the attempt 
to prevent future shock by regulating the pace of 
change. Pioneered by Theodore J. Gordon of the 
IFF, and called Cross Impact Matrix Analysis, it 
traces the effect of one innovation on another, making 
possible, for the first time, anticipatory analysis of 
complex chains of social, technological and other 
occurrences— and the rates at which they are likely 
to occur. 

We are, in short, witnessing a perfectly extraordi- 
nary thrust toward more scientific appraisal of future 
probabilities, a ferment likely, in itself, to have a 
powerful impact on the future. It would be foolish to 
oversell the ability of science, as yet, to forecast com- 
plex events accurately. Yet the danger today is not 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 463 

that we will overestimate our ability; the real danger 
is that we will under-utilize it. For even when our 
still-primitive attempts at scientific forecasting turn 
out to be grossly in error, the very effort helps us 
identify key variables in change, it helps clarify goals, 
and it forces more careful evaluation of policy alter- 
natives. In these ways, if no others, probing the future 
pays off in the present. 

Anticipating probable futures, however, is only 
part of what needs doing if we are to shift the plan- 
ner’s time horizon and infuse the entire society with 
a greater sense of tomorrow. For we must also vastly 
widen our conception of possible futures. To the 
rigorous discipline of science, we must add the flam- 
ing imagination of art. 

Today as never before we need a multiplicity of 
visions, dreams and prophecies— images of potential 
tomorrows. Before we can rationally decide which al- 
ternative pathways to choose, which cultural styles 
to pursue, we must first ascertain which are possible. 
Conjecture, speculation and the visionary view thus 
become as coldly practical a necessity as feet-on-the- 
floor "realism” was in an earlier time. 

This is why some of the world’s biggest and most 
tough-minded corporations, once the living embodi- 
ment of presentism, today hire intuitive futurists, 
science fiction writers and visionaries as consultants. 
A gigantic European chemical company employs a 
futurist who combines a scientific background with 
training as a theologian. An American communica- 
tions empire engages a future-minded social critic. 
A glass manufacturer searches for a science fiction 
writer to imagine the possible corporate forms of 
the future. Companies turn to these “blue-skyers” and 
“wild birds” not for scientific forecasts of probabili- 
ties, but for mind-stretching speculation about possi- 

Corporations must not remain the only agencies 
with access to such services. Local government, 
schools, voluntary associations and others also need 

464 Strategies for Survival 

to examine their potential futures imaginatively. One 
way to help them do so would be to establish in 
each community “imaginetic centers” devoted to 
technically assisted brainstorming. These would be 
places where people noted for creative imagination, 
rather than technical expertise, are brought together 
to examine present crises, to anticipate future crises, 
and to speculate freely, even playfully, about possible 

What, for example, are the possible futures of 
urban transportation? Traffic is a problem involving 
space. How might the city of tomorrow cope with 
the movement of men and objects through space? 
To speculate about this question, an imaginetic cen- 
ter might enlist artists, sculptors, dancers, furniture 
designers, parking lot attendants, and a variety of 
other people who, in one way or another, manipulate 
space imaginatively. Such people, assembled under 
the right circumstances, would inevitably come up 
with ideas of which the technocratic city planners, 
the highway engineers and transit authorities have 
never dreamed. 

Musicians, people who live near airports, jack- 
hammer men and subway conductors might well 
imagine new ways to organize, mask or suppress 
noise. Groups of young people might be invited to 
ransack their minds for previously unexamined ap- 
proaches to urban sanitation, crowding, ethnic con- 
flict, care of the aged, or a thousand other present 
and future problems. 

In any such effort, the overwhelming majority of 
ideas put forward will, of course, be absurd, funny or 
technically impossible. Yet the essence of creativity is 
a willingness to play the fool, to toy with the absurd, 
only later submitting the stream of ideas to harsh 
critical judgment. The application of the imagination 
to the future thus requires an environment in which 
it is safe to err, in which novel juxtapositions of ideas 
can be freely expressed before being critically sifted. 
We need sanctuaries for social imagination. 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 465 

While all sorts of creative people ought to partici- 
pate in conjecture about possible futures, they should 
have immediate access— in person or via telecommuni- 
cations— to technical specialists, from acoustical en- 
gineers to zoologists, who could indicate when a sug- 
gestion is technically impossible (bearing in mind 
that even impossibility is often temporary). 

Scientific expertise, however, might also play a 
generative, rather than merely a damping role in the 
imaginetic process. Skilled specialists can construct 
models to help imagineers examine all possible per- 
mutations of a given set of relationships. Such models 
are representations of real life conditions. In the 
words of Christoph Bertram of the Institute for Stra- 
tegic Studies in London, their purpose is “not so 
much to predict the future, but, by examining alterna- 
tive futures, to show the choices open.” 

An appropriate model, for example, could help a 
group of imagineers visualize the impact on a city 
if its educational expenditures were to fluctuate— 
how this would affect, let us say, the transport system, 
the theaters, the occupational structure and health of 
the community. Conversely, it could show how 
changes in these other factors might affect education. 

The rushing stream of wild, unorthodox, eccentric 
or merely colorful ideas generated in these sanctua- 
ries of social imagination must, after they have been 
expressed, be subjected to merciless screening. Only 
a tiny fraction of them will survive this filtering proc- 
ess. These few, however, could be of the utmost im- 
portance in calling attention to new possibilities that 
might otherwise escape notice. As we move from 
poverty toward affluence, politics changes from what 
mathematicians call a zero sum game into a non-zero 
sum game. In the first, if one player wins another 
must lose. In the second, all players can win. Finding 
non-zero .sum solutions to our social problems requires 
all the imagination we can muster. A system for gen- 
erating imaginative policy ideas could help us take 

466 Strategies for Survival 

maximum advantage of the non-zero opportunities 

While imaginetic centers concentrate on partial 
images of tomorrow, defining possible futures for a 
single industry, an organization, a city or its sub- 
systems, however, we also need sweeping, visionary 
ideas about the society as a whole. Multiplying our 
images of possible futures is important; but these im- 
ages need to be organized, crystallized into structured 
form. In the past, utopian literature did this for us. 
It played a practical, crucial role in ordering men’s 
dreams about alternative futures. Today we suffer 
for lack of utopian ideas around which to organize 
competing images of possible futures. 

Most traditional utopias picture simple and static 
societies— i.e., societies that have nothing in common 
with super-industrialism. B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two, 
the model for several existing experimental com- 
munes, depicts a pre-industrial way of life— small, 
close to the earth, built on farming and handcraft. 
Even those two brilliant anti-utopias, Brave New 
World and 1984, now seem oversimple. Both describe 
societies based on high technology and low complex- 
ity: the machines are sophisticated but the social and 
cultural relationships are fixed and deliberately sim- 

Today we need powerful new utopian and anti-uto- 
pian concepts that look forward to super-industrial- 
ism, rather than backward to simpler societies. These 
concepts, however, can no longer be produced in the 
old way. First, no book, by itself, is adequate to de- 
scribe a super-industrial future in emotionally com- 
pelling terms. Each conception of a super-industrial 
utopia or anti-utopia needs to be embodied in many 
forms— films, plays, novels and works of art— rather 
than a single work of fiction. Second, it may now be 
too difficult for any individual writer, no matter how 
gifted, to describe a convincingly complex future. We 
need, therefore, a revolution in the production of 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 467 

utopias: collaborative utopianism. We need to con- 
struct “utopia factories.” 

One way might be to assemble a small group of top 
social scientists— an economist, a sociologist, an an- 
thropologist, and so on— asking them to work together, 
even live together, long enough to hammer out among 
themselves a set of well-defined values on which they 
believe a truly super-industrial utopian society might 
be based. 

Each member of the team might then attempt to 
describe in nonfiction form a sector of an imagined 
society built on these values. What would its family 
structure be like? Its economy, laws, religion, sexual 
practices, youth culture, music, art, its sense of time, 
its degree of differentiation, its psychological prob- 
lems? By working together and ironing out incon- 
sistencies, where possible, a comprehensive and ade- 
quately complex picture might be drawn of a seam- 
less, temporary form of super-industrialism. 

At this point, with the completion of detailed anal- 
ysis, the project would move to the fiction stage. 
Novelists, film-makers, science fiction writers and 
others, working closely with psychologists, could pre- 
pare creative works about the lives of individual 
characters in the imagined society. 

Meanwhile, other groups could be at work on 
counter-utopias. While Utopia A might stress mate- 
rialist, success-oriented values, Utopia B might base 
itself on sensual, hedonistic values, C on the primacy 
of aesthetic values, D on individualism, E on collec- 
tivism, and so forth. Ultimately, a stream of books, 
plays, films and television programs would flow from 
this collaboration between art, social science and fu- 
turism, thereby educating large numbers of people 
about the costs and benefits of the various proposed 

Finally, if social imagination is in short supply, we 
are even more lacking in people willing to subject 
utopian ideas to systematic test. More and more 
young people, in their dissatisfaction with industrial- 

468 Strategies for Survival 

ism, are experimenting with their own lives, forming 
utopian communities, trying new social arrangements, 
from group marriage to living-learning communes. 
Today, as in the past, the weight of established society 
comes down hard on the visionary who attempts to 
practice, as well as merely preach. Rather than os- 
tracizing Utopians, we should take advantage of their 
willingness to experiment, encouraging diem with 
money and tolerance, if not respect. 

Most of today’s “intentional communities” or uto- 
pian colonies, however, reveal a powerful preference 
for the past. These may be of value to the individuals 
in them, but the society as a whole would be better 
served by utopian experiments based on super- rather 
than pre-industrial forms. Instead of a communal 
farm, why not a computer software company whose 
program writers live and work communally? Why 
not an education technology company whose mem- 
bers pool their money and merge their families? In- 
stead of raising radishes or crafting sandals, why 
not an oceanographic research installation organized 
along utopian lines? Why not a group medical prac- 
tice that takes advantage of the latest medical tech- 
nology but whose members accept modest pay and 
pool their profits to run a completely new-style medi- 
cal school? Why not recruit living groups to try out 
the proposals of the utopia factories? 

In short, we can use utopianism as a tool rather 
than an escape, if we base our experiments on the 
technology and society of tomorrow rather than that 
of the past. And once done, why not the most rig- 
orous, scientific analysis of the results? The findings 
could be priceless, were they to save us from mistakes 
or lead us toward more workable organizational forms 
for industry, education, family life or politics. 

Such imaginative explorations of possible futures 
would deepen and enrich our scientific study of 
probable futures. They would lay a basis for the rad- 
ical forward extension of the society’s time horizon. 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 469 

They would help us apply social imagination to the 
future of futurism itself. 

Indeed, with these as a background, we must con- 
sciously begin to multiply the scientific future-sensing 
organs of society. Scientific futurist institutes must be 
spotted like nodes in a loose network throughout the 
entire governmental structure in the techno-societies, 
so that in every department, local or national, some 
staff devotes itself systematically to scanning the 
probable long-term future in its assigned field. Fu- 
turists should be attached to every political party, 
university, corporation, professional association, trade 
union and student organization. 

We need to train thousands of young people in the 
perspectives and techniques of scientific futurism, in- 
viting them to share in the exciting venture of map- 
ping probable futures. We also need national agencies 
to provide technical assistance to local communities 
in creating their own futurist groups. And we need a 
similar center, perhaps jointly funded by American 
and European foundations, to help incipient futurist 
centers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. 

We are in a race between rising levels of uncer- 
tainty produced by the acceleration of change, and 
the need for reasonably accurate images of what at 
any instant is the most probable future. The generation 
of reliable images of the most probable future thus 
becomes a matter of the highest national, indeed, inter- 
national urgency. 

As the globe is itself dotted with future-sensors, we 
might consider creating a great international institute, 
a world futures data bank. Such an institute, staffed 
with top caliber men and women from all the sciences 
and social sciences, would take as its purpose the cob 
lection and systematic integration of predictive re- 
ports generated by scholars and imaginative thinkers 
in all the intellectual disciplines all over the world. 

Of course, those working in such an institute would 
know that they could never create a single, static dia- 
gram of the future. Instead, the product of their effort 

470 Strategies for Survival 

would be a constantly changing geography of the 
future, a continually re-created overarching image 
based on the best predictive work available. The 
men and women engaged in this work would know 
that nothing is certain; they would know that they 
must work with inadequate data; they would ap- 
preciate the difficulties inherent in exploring the un- 
charted territories of tomorrow. But man already 
knows more about the future than he has ever tried 
to formulate and integrate in any systematic and 
scientific way. Attempts to bring this knowledge to- 
gether would constitute one of the crowning intel- 
lectual efforts in history— and one of the most worth- 

Only when decision-makers are armed with better 
forecasts of future events, when by successive ap- 
proximation we increase the accuracy of forecast, will 
our attempts to manage change improve perceptibly. 
For reasonably accurate assumptions about the fu- 
ture are a precondition for understanding the poten- 
tial consequences of our own actions. And without 
such understanding, the management of change is 

If the humanization of the planner is the first stage 
in the strategy of social futurism, therefore, the for- 
ward extension of our time horizon is the second. To 
transcend technocracy, we need not only to reach 
beyond our economic philistinism, but to open our 
minds to more distant futures, both probable and 


In the end, however, social futurism must cut even 
deeper. For technocrats suffer from more than econo- 
think and myopia; they suffer, too, from the virus 
of elitism. To capture control of change, we shall, 
therefore, require a final, even more radical break- 
away from technocratic tradition: we shall need a 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 471 

revolution in the very way we formulate our social 

Rising novelty renders irrelevant the traditional 
goals of our chief institutions— state, church, corpo- 
ration, army and university. Acceleration produces a 
faster turnover of goals, a greater transience of pur- 
pose. Diversity or fragmentation leads to a relentless 
multiplication of goals. Caught in this churning, goal- 
cluttered environment, we stagger, future shocked, 
from crisis to crisis, pursuing a welter of conflicting 
and self-cancelling purposes. 

Nowhere is this more starkly evident than in our 
pathetic attempts to govern our cities. New Yorkers, 
within a short span, have suffered a nightmarish suc- 
cession of near disasters: a water shortage, a subway 
strike, racial violence in the schools, a student insur- 
rection at* Columbia University, a garbage strike, a 
housing shortage, a fuel oil strike, a breakdown of 
telephone service, a teacher walkout, a power black- 
out, to name just a few. In its City Hall, as in a thou- 
sand city 7 halls all over the high-technology nations, 
technocrats dash, firebucket in fist, from one confla- 
gration to another without the least semblance of a 
coherent plan or policy for the urban future. 

This is not to say no one is planning. On the con- 
trary 7 ; in this seething social brew, technocratic plans, 
sub-plans and counter-plans pour forth. They call for 
new highways, new roads, new power plants, new 
schools. They promise better hospitals, housing, men- 
tal health centers, welfare programs. But the plans 
cancel, contradict and reinforce one another by acci- 
dent. Few are logically related to one another, and 
none to any overall image of the preferred city of 
the future. No vision— utopian or otherwise— energizes 
our efforts. No rationally integrated goals bring order 
to the chaos. And at the national and international 
levels, the absence of coherent policy is equally 
marked and doubly dangerous. 

It is not simply that w 7 e do not know w r hich goals 
to pursue, as a city or as a nation. The trouble lies 

472 Strategies for Survival 

deeper. For accelerating change has made obsolete 
the methods by which we arrive at social goals. The 
technocrats do not yet understand this, and, react- 
ing to the goals crisis in knee-jerk fashion, they reach 
for the tried and true methods of the past. 

Thus, intermittently, a change-dazed government 
will try to define its goals publicly. Instinctively, it 
establishes a commission. In 1960 President Eisen- 
hower pressed into service, among others, a general, 
a judge, a couple of industrialists, a few college pres- 
idents, and a labor leader to “develop a broad outline 
of coordinated national policies and programs” and to 
“set up a series of goals in various areas of national 
activity.” In due course, a red-white-and-blue paper- 
back appeared with the commission’s report, Goals for 
Americans. Neither the commission nor its goals had 
the slightest impact on the public or on policy. The 
juggernaut of change continued to roll through Amer- 
ica untouched, as it were, by managerial intelligence. 

A far more significant effort to tidy up govern- 
mental priorities was initiated by President Johnson, 
with his attempt to apply PPBS (Planning-Program- 
ming-Budgeting-System) throughout the federal es- 
tablishment. PPBS is a method for tying programs 
much more closely and rationally to organizational 
goals. Thus, for example, by applying it, the Depart- 
ment of Health, Education and Welfare can assess 
the costs and benefits of alternative programs to ac- 
complish specified goals. But who specifies these larg- 
er, more important goals? The introduction of PPBS 
and the systems approach is a major governmental 
achievement. It is of paramount importance in man- 
aging large organizational efforts. But it leaves en- 
tirely untouched the profoundly political question of 
how the overall goals of a government or a society are 
to be chosen in the first place. 

President Nixon, still snarled in the goals crisis, 
tried a third tack. “It is time,” he declared, “we ad- 
dressed ourselves, consciously and systematically, to 
the question of what kind of a nation we want to be 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 473 

. . .” He thereupon put his finger on the quintessential 
question. But once more the method chosen for 
answering it proved to be inadequate. “I have today 
ordered the establishment, within the White House, 
of a National Goals Research Staff,” the President 
announced. “This will be a small, highly technical 
staff, made up of experts in the collection . . . and 
processing of data relating to social needs, and in 
the projection of social trends.” 

Such a staff, located within shouting distance of 
the Presidency, could be extremely useful in compil- 
ing goal proposals, in reconciling (at least on paper) 
conflicts between agencies, in suggesting new prior- 
ities. Staffed with excellent social scientists and 
futurists, it could earn its keep if it did nothing but 
force high officials to question their primary goals. 

Yet even this step, like the two before it, bears the 
unmistakable imprint of the technocratic mentality. 
For it, too, evades the politically charged core of the 
issue. How are preferable futures to be defined? And 
by whom? Who is to set goals for the future? 

Behind all such efforts runs the notion that national 
(and, by extension, local) goals for the future of 
society ought to be formulated at the top. This tech- 
nocratic premise perfectly mirrors the old bureau- 
cratic forms of organization in which line and staff 
were separated, in which rigid, undemocratic hier- 
archies distinguished leader from led, manager from 
managed, planner from plannee. 

Yet the real, as distinct from the glibly verbalized, 
goals of any society on the path to super-industrialism 
are already too complex, too transient and too de- 
pendent for their achievement upon the willing par- 
ticipation of the governed, to be perceived and 
defined so easily. We cannot hope to harness the run- 
away forces of change by assembling a kaffee klatsch 
of elders to set goals for us or by turning the task 
over to a “highly technical staff.” A revolutionary new 
approach to goal-setting is needed. 

Nor is this approach likely to come from those who 

474 Strategies for Survival 

play-act at revolution. One radical group, seeing all 
problems as a manifestation of the “maximization of 
profits” displays, in all innocence, an econocentricism 
as narrow as that of the technocrats. Another hopes to 
plunge us willy-nilly back into the pre-industrial past. 
Still another sees revolution exclusively in subjective 
and psychological terms. None of these groups is 
capable of advancing us toward post-technocratic 
forms of change management. 

By calling attention to the growing ineptitudes of 
the technocrats and by explicitly challenging not 
merely the means, but the very goals of industrial 
society, today’s young radicals do us all a great 
service. But they no more know how to cope with 
the goals crisis than the technocrats they scorn. 
Exactly like Messrs. Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon, 
they have been noticeably unable to present any posi- 
tive image of a future worth fighting for. 

Thus Todd Gitlin, a young American radical and 
former president of the Students for a Democratic 
Society, notes that while “an orientation toward the 
future has been the hallmark of every revolutionary 
—and, for that matter, liberal— movement of the last 
century and a half,” the New Left suffers from “a 
disbelief in the future.” After citing all the ostensible 
reasons why it has so far not put forward a coherent 
vision of the future, he succinctly confesses: “We find 
ourselves incapable of formulating the future.” 

Other New Left theorists fuzz over the problem, 
urging their followers to incorporate the future in 
the present by, in effect, living the life styles of to- 
morrow today. So far, this has led to a pathetic cha- 
rade— “free societies,” cooperatives, pre-industrial 
communes, few of which have anything to do with 
the future, and most of which reveal, instead, only a 
passionate penchant for the past. 

The irony is compounded when we consider that 
some (though hardly all) of today’s young radicals 
also share with the technocrats a streak of virulent 
elitism. While decrying bureaucracy and demanding 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 475 

“participatory democracy” they, themselves, frequent- 
ly attempt to manipulate the very groups of workers, 
blacks or students on whose behalf they demand par- 

The working masses in the high-technology so- 
cieties are totally indifferent to calls for a political 
revolution aimed at exchanging one form of property 
ownership for another. For most people, the rise in 
affluence has meant a better, not a worse, existence, 
and they look upon their much despised “suburban 
middle class lives” as fulfillment rather than depriva- 

Faced with this stubborn reality, undemocratic 
elements in the New Left leap to the Marcusian con- 
clusion that the masses are too bourgeoisified, too 
corrupted and addled by Madison Avenue to know 
what is good for them. And so, a revolutionary elite 
must establish a more humane and democratic future 
even if it means stuffing it down the throats of those 
who are too stupid to know their own interests. In 
short, the goals of society have to be set by an elite. 
Technocrat and anti-technocrat often turn out to be 
elitist brothers under the skin. 

Yet systems of goal formulation based on elitist 
premises are simply no longer “efficient.” In the strug- 
gle to capture control of the forces of change, they are 
increasingly counter-productive. For under super- 
industrialism, democracy becomes not a political lux- 
ury, but a primal necessity. 

Democratic political forms arose in the West not 
because a few geniuses willed them into being or 
because man showed an “unquenchable instinct for 
freedom.” They arose because the historical pressure 
toward social differentiation and toward faster paced 
systems demanded sensitive social feedback. In com- 
plex, differentiated societies, vast amounts of informa- 
tion must flow at ever faster speeds between the for- 
mal organizations and subcultures that make up the 
whole, and between the layers and sub-structures 
within these. 

476 Strategies for Survival 

Political democracy, by incorporating larger and 
larger numbers in social decision-making, facilitates 
feedback. And it is precisely this feedback that is 
essential to control. To assume control over accelerant 
change, we shall need still more advanced— and more 
democratic— feedback mechanisms. 

The technocrat, however, still thinking in top- 
down terms, frequently makes plans without arrang- 
ing for adequate and instantaneous feedback from 
the field, so that he seldom knows how well his plans 
are working. When he does arrange for feedback, 
what he usually asks for and gets is heavily economic, 
inadequately social, psychological or cultural. Worse 
yet, he makes these plans without sufficiently taking 
into account the fast-changing needs and washes of 
those whose participation is needed to make them a 
success. He assumes the right to set social goals by 
himself or he accepts them blindly from some higher 

He fails to recognize that the faster pace of change 
demands— and creates— a new kind of information 
system in society: a loop, rather than a ladder. In- 
formation must pulse through this loop at accelerat- 
ing speeds, wdth the output of one group becoming 
the input for many others, so that no group, however 
politically potent it may seem, can independently set 
goals for the whole. 

As the number of social components multiplies, and 
change jolts and destabilizes the entire system, the 
power of subgroups to wreak havoc on the whole is 
tremendously amplified. There is, in the words of 
W. Ross Ashby, a brilliant cyberneticist, a mathe- 
matically provable law to the effect that “when a 
whole system is composed of a number of subsystems, 
the one that tends to dominate is the one that is least 

Another way of stating this is that, as the number 
of social components grows and change makes the 
whole system less stable, it becomes less and less 
possible to ignore the demands of political minorities 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 477 

—hippies, blacks, lower-middle-class Wallacites, 
school teachers, or the proverbial little old ladies in 
tennis shoes. In a slower-moving, industrial context, 
America could turn its back on the needs of its black 
minority; in the new, fast-paced cybernetic society, 
this minority can, by sabotage, strike, or a thousand 
other means, disrupt the entire system. As interde- 
pendency grows, smaller and smaller groups within 
society achieve greater and greater power for critical 
disruption. Moreover, as the rate of change speeds up, 
the length of time in which they can be ignored shrinks 
to near nothingness. Hence: “Freedom now!” 

This suggests that the best way to deal with angry 
or recalcitrant minorities is to open the system further, 
bringing them into it as full partners, permitting them 
to participate in social goal-setting, rather than at- 
tempting to ostracize or isolate them. A Red China 
locked out of the United Nations and the larger in- 
ternational community, is far more likely to destabi- 
lize the world than one laced into the system. Young 
people forced into prolonged adolescence and de- 
prived of the right to partake in social decision-mak- 
ing will grow more and more unstable until they 
threaten the overall system. In short, in politics, in 
industry, in education, goals set without the partici- 
pation of those affected will be increasingly hard to 
execute. The continuation of top-down technocratic 
goal-setting procedures will lead to greater and great- 
er social instability, less and less control over the 
forces of change; an ever greater danger of cataclys- 
mic, man-destroying upheaval. 

To master change, we shall therefore need both a 
clarification of important long-range social goals and 
a democratization of the way in which we arrive at 
them. And this means nothing less than the next po- 
litical revolution in the techno-societies— a breath- 
taking affirmation of popular democracy. 

The time has come for a dramatic reassessment of 
the directions of change, a reassessment made not by 
the politicians or the sociologists or the clergy or the 

478 Strategies for Survival 

elitist revolutionaries, not by technicians or college 
presidents, but by the people themselves. We need, 
quite literally, to “go to the people” with a question 
that is almost never asked of them: “What kind of a 
world do you want ten, twenty, or thirty years from 
now?” We need to initiate, in short, a continuing 
plebiscite on the future. 

The moment is right for the formation in each of 
the high-technology nations of a movement for total 
self-review, a public self-examination aimed at broad- 
ening and defining in social, as well as merely eco- 
nomic, terms, the goals of “progress.” On the edge of 
a new millennium, on the brink of a new stage of hu- 
man development, we are racing blindly into the 
future. But where do we want to go? 

What would happen if we actually tried to answer 
this question? 

Imagine the historic drama, the power and evolu- 
tionary impact, if each of the high-technology nations 
literally set aside the next five years as a period of 
intense national self-appraisal; if at the end of five 
years it were to come forward with its own tentative 
agenda for the future, a program embracing not 
merely economic targets but, equally important, 
broad sets of social goals— if each nation, in effect, 
stated to the world what it wished to accomplish 
for its people and mankind in general during the re- 
maining quarter century of the millennium. 

Let us convene in each nation, in each city, in 
each neighborhood, democratic constituent assemblies 
charged with social stock-taking, charged with de- 
fining and assigning priorities to specific social goals 
for the remainder of the century. 

Such “social future assemblies” might represent not 
merely geographical localities, but social units— indus- 
try, labor, the churches, the intellectual community, 
the arts, women, ethnic and religious groups, students, 
with organized representation for the unorganized as 
well. There are no sure-fire techniques for guarantee- 
ing equal representation for all, or for eliciting the 

The Strategy of Social Futurism 479 

wishes of the poor, the inarticulate or the isolated. 
Yet once we recognize the need to include them, we 
shall find the ways. Indeed, the problem of participat- 
ing in the definition of the future is not merely a 
problem of the poor, the inarticulate and the isolat- 
ed. Highly paid executives, wealthy professionals, 
extremely articulate intellectuals and students— all at 
one time or another feel cut off from the power to 
influence the directions and pace of change. Wiring 
them into the system, making them a part of the 
guidance machinery of the society, is the most critical 
political task of the coming generation. Imagine the 
effect if at one level or another a place were provided 
where all those who will live in the future might 
voice their wishes about it. Imagine, in short, a mas- 
sive, global exercise in anticipatory democracy. 

Social future assemblies need not— and, given the 
rate of transience— cannot be anchored, permanent 
institutions. Instead, they might take the form of a